Line-ups are released: Kuyt in, Aquilani in, Babel in, Benayoun in. Attack?
**Liveblog at the Atlético Offside: I'll be lurking there for some of the time, in between pretending to work and pretending to care about the work I'm pretending to do**
Mascherano Carragher Agger Johnson
Aquilani Babel Benayoun
Bench: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Pacheco, Degen, El Zhar, Ayala, Ngog
Kudos to nate for mentioning this in passing in his preview (ignore that part about it being "not likely," though). And by "this," I mean the somewhat surprising move to place Masch at right back and Glen Johnson at left back. I don't think it's one that compromises anything defensively---Johnson's certainly as capable a defender at left back as he is at right, and I think you could make an argument for Masch being one of the top three or four full-backs on the roster. Dirk Kuyt's availability isn't completely shocking, and it all makes for, as the official site mentions, a very attack-minded eleven. I see plenty of interplay up the spine---Gerrard, Aquilani, Babel, Kuyt---that could make things very difficult for Atlético.
David de Gea
Valera Dominguez Perea Lopez
Reyes Assuncao Garcia Simao
Bench: Sergio Asenjo, Camacho, Jurado, Salvio, Juanito, Ujfalusi, Cabrera
Not too many surprises for Atlético: Aguero returns to join Diego Forlan up top, flanked by Simao and former Arsenal man Jose Antonio Reyes. First leg defensive hero Luis Perea again anchors the defense, and 19 year-old keeper David de Gea anxiously awaits having to make his first save of the tie.
**Also worth following is the second leg of the Fulham-Hamburg tie. If Liverpool defeat Atlético, they'll either face another English side or the host team, making the final an intriguing affair regardless of the outcome...so long as Liverpool's there. You can find ways to watch that one here, and be sure to visit the Hamburg Offside and Fulham Offside as well.**
In the run-up:
"I'm desperate to win it."
"These are the stages you want to play on, these are the nights when heroes are made."
"Biggest game of the season."
"For the club it would be massive, and also for the players."
So it's just one for the also-rans and rejects of European football, yeah?
I always set out to keep everything focused on tonight's match, but it's never possible. I'll get the rumors and lies out of the way first:
Apparently Liverpool are after a pair of Rangers defenders in Madjid Bougherra and Danny Wilson. I don't know that this makes much sense given the personnel that Liverpool have: Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Emiliano Insua, Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, etc. etc. But I also don't know much about either of the names mentioned, and I can't comment on whether or not either player is talented enough to displace any of the above names. With the cash splashed on Johnson and the emergence of Carra and Agger as the first-choice pair, I'd have a tough time seeing any part of the transfer budget devoted entirely to stocking the bench.
Another name linked with the club is Mauro Zárate, the Argentinean striker who's currently with Lazio. He's rumored to be unhappy with management, and apparently the Premier League is a possibility with both Liverpool and Manchester City interested. Again somebody I know little about (sensing a theme here?), although I did see him in the Roman derby, where his pace caused all sorts of problems for Roma. But I also saw this on the Roma Offside (halfway down the post, click the link for homoerotic nightmare fodder), making me question lots of things, football-related and otherwise.
No section of lies is complete without a Rafa Benitez report, so here's the obligatory "manager responds to rumors that he's leaving by expressing puzzlement and stating that he's focused on the immediate future" link. Vintage.
And finally we arrive at something related to the match---"Jamie Carragher wants Reds to win Europa League" Where would we be without such penetrating insight? Luckily the actual content is more enlightening, with the defender talking at length about his desire to win another trophy with the club, famous European nights of old, and the importance of coming out strong tonight. The best bit:
"We know how to play at Anfield, it's got to be all about a quick pace and a high intensity. We've got experience and that could be really important. In many ways, this game is similar to Chelsea in 2007. The first goal is going to be so important. The tie is on a knife edge and it is vital we start well. It's going to be a great atmosphere.
"People might have expected us to get this far but the achievement should not be taken for granted. We've got a chance to get to a final and we've got to grab it with both hands. We're all ready to give it our very best."
I'm sold. Roll on kick-off.