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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Birmingham City, 09.12.10

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At long last, there's club football to be played. That's a good thing, right?

As I've alluded to time and again, international breaks are quite possibly the bane of my existence. Maybe not Martin at the Arsenal Offside levels of hatred, but still a healthy amount. I understand there's a heavy investment that many have in their respective national teams' success, but for me it was a long two weeks.

Needless to say, I'm happy to have Liverpool back in action.

That action is going to come hard and fast over the next few weeks, kicking off on Sunday at St. Andrew's. And for whatever reason (likely the fact that Liverpool haven't beaten Brum in Premier League competition since 2004), I'm scared sh*tless. Alex McLeish's side made Rafa Benitez's life miserable, and there's no reason to think that Sunday won't be similarly difficult.

McLeish has a squad that, for all intents and purposes, has only gotten stronger since the clubs' last meeting in league. The Scottish manager has kept his top talent since the club rejoined the top flight in 2007 and managed to steadily add quality where needed. This offseason was no different, as McLeish managed to bring in Alexander Hleb, Jean Beausejour, Martin Jiranek and Matt Derbyshire, with the services of the former three secured on the final day of the summer window.

While Hleb won't be available for Sunday's match after injuring his leg with Belarus, the rest of the new additions will likely feature. McLeish will also call on the names that most of us are familiar with---Cameron Jerome up top, Sebastian Larsson, Barry Ferguson, and top scorer (3) Craig Gardner in the midfield, and, if the first three matches of the league season are anything to go by, a backline of Stephen Carr, Liam Ridgewell, Roger Johnson, and Scott Dann in front of Ben Foster. I'd guess that Beausejour and possibly Scott McFadden round out the Birmingham eleven.

For Liverpool, then:

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?

I know you've all been dying to share the knowledge you've acquired in the past two weeks, so answer in the comments.

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Konchesky
Maxi Meireles Poulsen Jovanovic
Gerrard
Torres

---Joe Cole is still ruled out through the ban he incurred after the red card against Arsenal on the opening day; this is the final match of that three match ban. Dirk Kuyt will also miss out, as news broke midweek that his shoulder injury will require four weeks of recovery time. No word if David Ngog and Fabio Aurelio are available for selection.

---Maybe you fit Cole and/or Kuyt in somehow with everyone available, but this is likely as strong as Liverpool get this season. Not overwhelming by any stretch, but solid and experienced across the board.

---I think there will be starts for both of the new(er) boys. Raul Meireles is likely expected to make an immediate impact, and a partnership with Christian Poulsen could be the way forward for Hodgson and Liverpool. Maybe it's too early, but I'm hoping we see him at least at some point. And I honestly have no idea how the Fabio Aurelio-Paul Konchesky pecking order will play out, but I'm guessing that we see Konchesky at left back with the revelation that Aurelio is yet again injured.

---On the flanks and up front, you probably know what to expect if this is the formation---Glen Johnson bombing past an incutting Maxi on the right, Milan Jovanovic tirelessly sprinting down the left flank, and Steven Gerrard nipping at Fernando Torres' heels at the top.

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

I can't stop thinking about the away performances last season by Liverpool against mid- to lower-table sides. Squeaked by Villa, Bolton and West Ham, draws with Birmingham, Stoke, Hull City, Blackburn, and Wolves, and losses to Fulham, Portsmouth, Sunderland, and Wigan. Not exactly inspiring stuff. And while the sample size isn't huge, this season hasn't looked any better---their only away fixture in league was the 3-0 loss to Manchester City, who's admittedly not exactly a mid-table side anymore.

On the whole this season Liverpool have shown a worrying propensity to sit back and allow their opposition to dictate the tempo of the match, though---West Brom was a prime example, and that was at Anfield. Away fixtures anywhere are difficult, and things are naturally going to sway in the direction of the home side. But if Liverpool can be a bit more active in possession and put some pressure on Birmingham, I think they'll give themselves a great chance at breaking their dismal record against the Blues in recent years.

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

Is it blind faith and foolish optimism to suggest that Liverpool somehow escape with all three points? Okay, I'm doing it anyway. 1-0 to Liverpool with Ryan Babel getting the winner and then terrorizing our delicate grammatical sensibilities on Twitter for the next few days.

I'll finish with a reminder that I'm away all day tomorrow, shamefully embracing my roots as an American by, as Rosco put it, "watching yanky football lark, (with) too much running around bashing into each other." Culture!

Have a good weekend everybody, I'll be back Sunday morning about an hour before kickoff with the matchday thread.