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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Steaua Bucharest, 09.16.10

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Liverpool kick off the group stage tomorrow night at Anfield.

I'm a little out of sorts today---after an hour and a half at the walk-in clinic, I feel confident in saying that I left with more than just the bronchitis with which I entered.

But it's good fortune for me that the Europa League is upon us, because the trend of me not knowing sh*t about the opposition continues. Typically I might try to feign knowledge, but my resources are depleted by fighting off the orgy of viruses floating around the clinic lobby.

Here's what we know about Steaua---the side from Bucharest compete in the Romanian Ligue 1, where they're currently in the third spot behind their Bucharestian(?) neighbors Dinamo and Rapid on goal differential. They lost to Unirea, one of Liverpool's Europa League opponents last season, 1-0 last weekend, but they've managed to string together a solid start to their domestic campaign.

Liverpool and Steaua have met previously, in the 2003-2004 UEFA Cup, with Liverpool defeating the Romanian side 1-0 on the strength of a Harry Kewell goal that sealed progression after a 1-1 draw in Bucharest. **Updated**This season's version of Steaua have progressed via penalties after their tie with Grasshoppers ended 1-1. The club's leading scorer is Bogdan Stancu, but he'll be missing for Thursday's match. Midfielder Striker Romeo Surdo has 3 goals in league, followed by Bănel Nicoliţă with 2 from the midfield. Possibly worth noting that they've only kept one clean sheet so far this season domestically, but have also only conceded one in the Europa League. **Visit the comments section to get additional information along with me getting humiliated. Hooray!**

Is that enough to qualify me as somewhat informed?

Good, let's move on to Liverpool.

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 convey that you also know f*ck all about tomorrow's match below.

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Kyrgiakos Agger Kelly
Lucas Meireles
Pacheco Cole Babel
Ngog

---I don't know why I draw these things up as any sort of discernible formation anymore. Above it's a 4-2-3-1, but it could be 4-4-2 in 4-4-1-1 practice. That's also assuming that this is anywhere near accurate.

---The talk about Ryan Babel proving something to the new manager has to play out at some point, so I'm guessing it starts tomorrow. I know the aforementioned talk also included a discussion of how his best position is up top, but I think Ngog gets the nod as a lone striker. If it's actually 4-4-2, maybe they partner?

---I'm dying to see Dani Pacheco in meaningful action. He was fantastic the two times we've seen him in league (and could have very well had an influence against Birmingham on Sunday), and I'm hopeful that tomorrow is a chance at a start. He and Joe Cole have the potential to create some encouraging overlap across the front lines.

---I have no idea what the injury situation across the back line looks like, but I'm guessing that they don't take any chances with Paul Konchesky after he came off injured against Brum. Hodgson said that Kuyt and Aurelio are the only two injuries, though, so maybe we see Konch after all. If that's the case, I think Glen Johnson would be the odd man out, with Martin Kelly sliding over to right back.

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

After Sunday's performance, I think the entire squad, Hodgson included, has some convincing to do. Even at their "most talented," Liverpool have looked off the pace and far too willing to allow opponents to dictate the pace of play. And that applies to nearly every match this season---home, away, domestic, and cup competitions.

I mentioned yesterday how this would very likely be a different approach in Europe than we've seen in previous years, and it seems that Hodgson has something similar in mind. But that doesn't really matter, because regardless of who he decides to put in the starting eleven, the most important factor for Liverpool is that they're able to play with confidence and as though they expect to win. The timidity and passivity with which Liverpool has played in recent weeks is plenty discouraging, but they've got more than enough talent to turn things around.

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

I hope Liverpool break out in a big way tomorrow, but I'm not entirely sure---I think it ends 2-0 to the Reds. Not a great performance, but something to latch onto ahead of Sunday.

Tomorrow marks the start of DIRECTV's coverage of the Europa League in the US, and it'll be on FIVE in the UK. Streams and links up for the rest of us will be up tomorrow morning.

Have a good day everyone, let's hope for some good action in the Champions League.