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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Portsmouth, 03.15.10

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Liverpool host Pompey, looking to get back on some sort of track.

Clearly we don't need to rehash what happened last time these two teams met. But why not do it anyway?

Liverpool visited Fratton Park in the middle part of December to face a Portsmouth side that were nearing rock bottom. They had been bottom of the table all season, their players hadn't received their wages in weeks, and it was looking more and more likely that they would be fading into oblivion. Recipe for a Liverpool thrashing.

Two red cards and two Portsmouth goals later, Liverpool had hit a new low. Javier Mascherano and Jamie Carragher were rightly sent off and Liverpool were played off the pitch against a side whose ability to do so, at least from the business side of things, would soon be cast into serious doubt. It was undoubtedly the worst performance of the season and in recent memory for Liverpool---not just physically, not just emotionally, but comprehensively. And sadly, it wouldn't be the last time we would say this.

Liverpool's last league run-out at Wigan was remarkably and frighteningly similar to what we saw the last time the Reds took on Portsmouth. The ever omniscient Jon Champion even took note how similar the fixtures could be---proclaiming that Liverpool would need to use their Fratton Park experience to hone their mental approach. Advice that probably would have been better proclaimed prior to the opening whistle, Jon.

But that's been the story of Liverpool's season, and probably one of the issues that brings about the most frustration in me---their complete and utter lack of ability to learn anything from the struggles, and few successes, they've had this campaign. It seems at this stage in the season they are incapable of doing so, and if it's truly the case, we're in for a very bumpy last few months. Whether it's Everton, United, Villa, Wigan, or Portsmouth, Liverpool have to find some sort of consistent approach.

And I don't believe that this requires an especially high level of talent, despite what Fernando Torres stated to the press in the last few days. It's what was so inspirational about the play of the Greek and Phillipp Degen in those two matches in late January---there's nothing flashy about their brand of football, but it's a brand that is endearing and cannot be questioned in terms of effort. If you were to look at the big boys---Steven Gerrard especially---I don't know that in this season you could say the same. Of all the things Liverpool have done wrong this season, against Portsmouth in particular, this is their gravest offense.

So turning it around tomorrow is vital. For all the talk about Wigan being a "blip," I think we all know a bit better. That's what poses Liverpool the biggest threat tomorrow---fooling themselves into thinking that last week's Monday fixture was the anomaly. To approach a match with that type of ignorance is what's gotten Liverpool to this point, and it's why Portsmouth still pose a threat to Liverpool at Anfield, even after going into administration, which docked them 9 points and stapled their ass to the bottom of the table.

Player-to-player, at least on paper, Portsmouth don't pose that many problems. Jamie O'Hara has given a fantastic account of himself on loan this season, roaming the midfield area with increasing confidence and posing a major threat from set pieces. Up front they've got a decent amount of attacking verve, and although they'll miss K.P. Boateng's forward movement from the midfield, Frederic Piquionne has emerged as a danger man in recent weeks. And Liverpool old boy Steve Finnan finally makes his Anfield return, likely starting at right back and patrolling familiar territory.

I made my preference known regarding Liverpool's formation after the Lille match, so I'll just quote myself here:

Reina
Johnson-Carra-Greek/Agger-Agger/Insua
Mascherano
Gerrard-Aquilani
Maxi-Torres-Babel

It's not likely we'll see something like this, with little left to say about the pacing of Aquilani's integration into the side, and the lack of consistency in attacking options. And that includes Fernando Torres at this point. But to beat my point completely to death, it shouldn't matter who's in the starting eleven or how much their transfer fee was. If Liverpool are to salvage anything from this nine-month train wreck, they'll need to show character and commitment. You know, like Portsmouth.