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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Trabzonspor, 08.19.10

Trabzonspor visits in the first leg of the Europa League tie at Anfield.

Back when the draw for this round was announced, I lamented the fact that I knew little about Trabzonspor:

I usually expect my knowledge of the opposition to increase correspondingly. But I’m left grasping at straws and Google, and other than making weak generalizations about how traveling to Turkey is tough and this will surely be more difficult than the previous two rounds I have little to offer.

At that time I vowed to educate myself about Liverpool's opposition---I would not be held back by the shackles of my ignorance any longer. I promised myself I'd catch one of their matches in the Super League, I'd identify their key men, and I'd have a solid idea of how they would approach the tie with Liverpool.

Fast forward to today, and I actually know less about Trabzonspor than I did two weeks ago. It's bad enough that going back to find what I had written actually increased my level of knowledge, but what makes it worse is that at that time, my working knowledge was near zero.

So, Trabzonspor, then. What we do know is that they'll be making their Europa League bow tomorrow, as they bypassed the early stages by finishing fifth in the Super League last season. They have been in competitive action domestically, though, and they're off to a solid start under longtime off-and-on manager Şenol Güneş. They defeated last season's Super League champions, Bursaspor, 3-0 in the Turkish Super Cup, and started their league campaign off with a 2-0 victory over Ankaragucu.

The most interesting fact to emerge from their previous two matches is that their Colombian striker Teofilo Gutierrez has scored all five of the club's goals thus far. It's a far cry from his performance last season, when he didn't score after joining the club in January. No doubt he'll be the main man to watch for in attack. Also worth noting that they haven't conceded in either of their two matches---two isn't a huge sample size, but netting three and keeping a clean sheet against the previous season's champions is likely no small task.

But they'll be facing a Liverpool side that's growing in strength, at least in terms of the first-team talent that'll be available. And that's even accounting for the losses of Daniel Agger and Javier Mascherano, both of whom suffered injuries in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal. No surprise that I'm more concerned about the former, not just because of their respective futures with the club---a concussion for anyone is dangerous business, and Hodgson's assertion that he "has got no memory of the game" is even more worrying. Hopefully he's given the time needed to make a full recovery.

As for who and what we will see, I'm sticking with the three questions approach:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

Feel free to answer in the comments below. Here's mine:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Carragher Skrtel Kelly
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Babel

Again, a couple of notes:

---Pepe Reina needs to be back in goal, regardless of what's going on behind him. Diego Cavalieri's not going to get any hurt feelings at this point, and if I'm honest, there's no need to give him any sort of send-off if he's headed out. I'm not entirely worried about any lingering effects of the miscue against Arsenal, but getting back to normal will be beneficial.

---I don't know if any of the left-backs are fit yet, so I'm guessing Martin Kelly gets the start again. He was great in his last run-out, and even if the competition will be a little stronger, I think he's equal to the task.

---The stretch here is leaving out Alberto Aquilani again, but with Joe Cole's three-match ban on the horizon the Italian is relatively assured of getting playing time in the near future. Cole pretty much has to feature after his dismissal Sunday---similarly to Reina, the chance to wipe the bad taste clean can't come quickly enough.

---I'm doubting that Torres gets the start, if nothing else than for keeping Monday in mind. I think we'll see a bit more of him than we did Sunday, but with City on the horizon I can't see him on the pitch for kickoff.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

For me, goals are the most important factor. I know I earlier made light of the "away games in Turkey" stereotype, but it's a stereotype for a reason---away games in Turkey are, in most instances, very difficult. Liverpool will need to get on the board, hopefully by a clear two, to head into the second leg of the tie feeling any sort of comfort.

They can't completely abandon defense, but they'll need to show a clearer attacking intent than we saw against Arsenal. The front men will likely be the same (see above), and I think Joe Cole is key here. We all know his Premier League debut didn't go so well, but it's over and done with, and he's got to have some influence in order for Liverpool to cause some problems. If he can get consistent service for David Ngog/Fernando Torres, there's going to be some chances taken.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

I say Liverpool 3, Trabonspor 1. Lifeline for the Turkish club with an away goal, but two clear for the Reds with plenty left to do when they visit the Black Sea next week.

Matchday post up tomorrow, with streams etc. This one isn't televised in the US, so it'll be a scramble.

Take care everyone.

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