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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Hull City, 05.09.10

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Because sometimes forcing yourself to care is part of being a fan.

And if any match required a forceful emotional investment, this one is it.

Liverpool travel to the KC on the last day of the Premier League season a broken team---mentally, emotionally, and physically, they are just damned worn down. As the drama on the pitch winds down, the drama off the pitch winds up, and the past week has seen consistent speculation and rumors about how the offseason will play out. We've talked about it before---there's so much will-they, won't-they going on that one could be forgiven for missing the fact that there's actually a match left to play.

And Hull will prove to be a curious place to finish the season. They're already relegated after a tumultuous campaign of their own and, like Liverpool, seem to have little to play for other than pride. Which, Liverpool supporters learned last Sunday, doesn't necessarily ensure an inspirational performance. So there's really no telling how this one plays out---you wouldn't expect either team to roll over, but you don't expect either to go completely balls to the wall, either. There's a host of injuries for both sides, and often times the final fixtures of the year see younger talent make their bow.

For Hull, the main concerns (besides, you know, relegation) have been the fitness of Jimmy Bullard, Caleb Folan, Stephen Hunt, Kamil Zayatte, Ian Ashbee, and Richard Garcia. Bullard and Folan aren't certainties to miss, but as we'll see with Liverpool, there's no sense in taking chances at this point. Iain Dowie's side featured a number of youngsters at Wigan last weekend, and 18 year-old striker Mark Cullen netted his first for the club in the match that saw the Tigers relegated. And Will Atkinson provided support from midfield for the front men, with the 22 year-old scoring one of his own in the 2-2 draw.

A major problem for Hull this season has been the ability to find the net with any sort of consistency---they've only scored 34 goals on the season while conceding 75. But if there's any silver lining here it's that they've scored 22 of those goals at home, where their differential is only -7. And the KC is where they've won six matches this season---the only six they've won the entire year. It's obviously been a much different story away from home, and that's what damned them to the Championship.

While Liverpool can't compare with the very real struggles of relegation to another league, they have struggled with relegation from the elite tier of the Premier League. They've proved to be a step behind their former peers at nearly every point this season---the victory over United at Anfield seems like it was a lifetime ago. And no doubt their road form is partially to blame, as the Reds have dropped all three points eight different times this season away from Anfield.

As noted above, Liverpool can match or trump any club's injury concerns, and tomorrow will be no different. Among the longer-term absentees, only Martin Skrtel has a chance of making the squad, but even that would have to be deemed whiskey-induced optimism. We can add Glen Johnson and Maxi Rodriguez to the list of those that will finish the season in the physio's care, and they'll be joined by the usuals---Fernando Torres, Emiliano Insua, Fabio Aurelio, and Martin Kelly.

So while Rafa's not the type of manager to ever throw caution to the wind, his hand might be forced tomorrow. Undoubtedly the injuries at the back require another appearance at right back for Javier Mascherano, and we'll likely see Carra and Ayala partner again in the middle due to the midweek duties of Sotirios Kyrgiakos with Daniel Agger finishing the season at left back. Maybe the big surprise in the back line comes in the form of who will apparently make the substitute's bench: 16 year-old Jack Robinson will apparently make the squad for tomorrow, and if he features he'll be the youngest player in Liverpool history to play in a match (via nate at oh you beauty via one of his commenters via the Times).

Masch in the fullback role means Lucas partners with someone in central midfield, and recent performances have suggested that it'll be Steven Gerrard. This allows Alberto Aquilani to play in a more advanced role, where he's truly shone in the past few matches. The wide men will again be the big question, as will the striker's role. This plays like a Europa League match for Liverpool---Maxi gone, making things a little dicier for Rafa. And no word on the David Ngog injury front, but I'd guess that Dirk Kuyt finishes up top with Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel on the wings.

Honestly, a big part of me says, "let's just get this f***ing thing over with." There's (hopefully) plenty to look forward to in the offseason leading into the next campaign, and after the heartbreak and struggle of getting through this year, the 90th minute can't come soon enough. I'm hoping for Liverpool to finish on a high note, but at this point any note will do so long as it's the final one.