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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Birmingham City, 04.04.10

Blackberry-induced brevity again, normal service to resume tomorrow evening at the latest.

In the meantime, what to keep in mind ahead of tomorrow's match with Brum:

---Sunderland 3, Tottenham 1. We knew that Liverpool were in dire need of help, we just didn't know they'd get it from the side they embarrassed last weekend. Still plenty left to do for Rafa and company, but an encouraging result to say the least.

---Birmingham's home record: Unbeaten in their last twelve matches at home, and a record on the season that includes stifling the likes of Chelsea, United, Arsenal, and Spurs. A good mid-table side that is better than good in front of their own supporters.

---Liverpool's away record: As of right now, Liverpool's tally away from Anfield hasn't exactly been sparkling. Wins against Aston Villa and Everton are the most impressive, but losses to Wigan, Portsmouth, and Sunderland are cause for concern.

---Head-to-head: Liverpool haven't taken all three from Brum in their last seven meetings, which includes this year's controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield. It was the dive heard 'round the world from David Ngog that brought the Reds level in a match that the Blues rightly felt they deserved more. Maybe not enough to justify a "bad-blood" label in the run-up, particularly with Ngog stapled to the bench of late, but you know they felt hard done by.

---Birmingham's front men: After disappointing earlier in the season, Cameron Jerome has started to come good and hit a thunderbolt in the last meeting, and Chucho Benitez has provided a spark most of the year (along with unquestionably styling hair). They're a powerful combination of strength and speed, and both have the skill to expose Liverpool at the back.

---Rafa's squad selection (outside the back four): Continued concerns about the long-term fitness of Alberto Aquilani makes this task a bit easier, but there's still no "preferred" selections in attack outside of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Lucas and Masch could partner again, but I'd be remiss if I didn't throw the possibility of a Gerrard-Masch pairing behind Kuyt/Maxi-Benayoun/Kuyt-Babel/Benayoun. Liverpool can't afford to spread things too much, but they can't afford to play as conservatively (read: shitty) as they did in the aforementioned road losses earlier in the season.

---The tactical match-up between the current and future (?) Liverpool managers: I don't know that there's actually anything in the rumors linking Alex McLeish to the Liverpool post, but he's done a fantastic job with his squad this season and has rightly earned praise from around the league. As Liverpool battles out the rest of the season the rumors about Rafa's departure have slowly died down, but look for them to kick back up if the Reds don't get the result tomorrow.

---Looking past the statistics: My biggest complaint this season has been Liverpool's tendency to play without any sort of passion or energy, but in the past few weeks they seem to be headed in the right direction. Even the loss at Benfica was less a product of dispirited football than it was misfortune and missed chances. Just ask Ryan Babel. It's a necessity that Liverpool string together performances with the type emotional energy we've witnessed recently, and tomorrow's visit to Brum is another chance to do so.

With raw thumbs I leave you, at least until tomorrow morning. While they can't play for the rest of the table, Liverpool also can't afford to see an opportunity to gain ground go begging. It'll probably be tight and nervy, but that's what Liverpool used to do best. Let's hope they still know how, because both tomorrow and the rest of the league season will require it.

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