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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Blackpool, 01.12.11

Liverpool head to Bloomfield Road looking for away win number two.

Fortuitous that the whole undersoil heating debacle pushed this one back, yes?

Doesn't make tomorrow's task any easier, of course, but at least there's a bit of optimism and feel-good factor for Liverpool heading into yet another away match. I'd like to think that subtracting Roy Hodgson from the equation and adding Kenny Dalglish immediately make Liverpool a better away side, and it may very well be the case, although I'm prone to side with Dalglish in acknowledging that there's a good bit of romance swirling about and we'd all be better suited to get to the football (if you haven't read it already, that link needs a full read; Dalglish's press conferences are fantastic).

In this case, getting to the football means focusing on one of the more surprising teams of the season. Ian Holloway's Blackpool started the campaign as relegation favorites, and, even after a few surprising early season victories, were pegged to fade at some point. Their victory at Anfield very well could have been a one-off after two subsequent losses, but they recovered nicely in earning their first ever Premier League home victory against West Brom. They've managed to go 4-3-3 in league from November on, and at current they're level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand (the Reds lead on goal differential). And for what it's worth, their loss at the weekend in the FA Cup against Southampton seemed to be less a product of continuing a slide that had seen them lose two straight and more a result of ringing in wholesale changes (nine in total) to the regular eleven.

The best part is that there's no secret to how they've done it; at this point it's almost mandatory to use the word "fearless" when discussing Holloway's side. It wouldn't be cliche if it wasn't true, though, and Holloway's stuck to his guns when it comes to trading blows with "bigger" sides. They've only really been punished twice (6-0 to Arsenal and 4-0 to Chelsea) and have hung with nearly everyone they've played, so why the hell do anything differently?

Tomorrow, however, Holloway's choices are a bit more limited---David Carney is representing Australia in the Asian Cup, and he'll miss Marlon Harewood, Matt Gilks, and Chris Basham through injury. As I mentioned the last time I previewed this match, "he’ll be able to call on Ghanaian keeper Richard Kingson to replace Gilks. He’ll also have Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, Craig Cathcart and Neil Eardley in defense, with David Vaughan, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, DJ Campbell, Luke Varney, and Neil Eardley to choose from in the midfield and attack."

As for 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?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Cole Maxi

---Jamie Carragher is officially the only long-term injury in the first team, as Jay Spearing made his return to action in the reserves' 2-1 victory over Sunderland earlier today. Steven Gerrard will miss out as part of the three-match ban he received for the tackle on Michael Carrick on Sunday. There's a few listed as "doubtful" on the BBC link above---"Joe Cole (ankle), Glen Johnson (personal reasons)," and my personal favorite, "Paul Konchesky (dead leg)." That's a generous way to evaluate his performances this season.

---I've had about five different versions of this section, so who knows what the hell will happen. I suppose if Cole and Johnson are doubtful it'd be wise to leave them out, but I'm guessing they both make a full return. I'd say I agree with Noel's post yesterday about Martin Kelly and bringing him along, and that my predicted lineup is indicative of that, but I'm feeling fragile and don't want to get called dirty names today.

---Two matches in four days might be too much to ask of Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio in defense, but with Konchesky's dead leg/ability and the solid performance put in by Martin Skrtel and Agger at Old Trafford, I'm hopeful that's what we see.

---Even with the struggles they had on Sunday, which may have been more attributable to less than full fitness for Raul Meireles, I think the Lucas/Meireles pairing is the best option.

---The absence of Gerrard makes picking the front four a little more difficult of a task, but maybe the only question mark is how Dalglish chooses to assemble them. I'm guessing Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, and Maxi all retain their places, Cole has another go in a supporting role. As usual, I expect to be completely wrong, but at least now I can be comfortable in the knowledge that it'll be a good thing.

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

I think tomorrow starts the most important period of Kenny Dalglish's return---Sunday was always going to be, in his words, a romantic affair. But what happens from tomorrow forward will be what defines Liverpool's campaign. There'll be plenty of romantic moments between now and the end of the season, but in between it'll be down to the club's ability to get the results they need. And after the first five months of the season, they pretty much need every result.

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

I really think that if Liverpool play like they did on Sunday they've got a great chance to take all three points tomorrow. Won't be easy, but 2-1 to Liverpool.

Tomorrow's match is another that doesn't have a definite carrier in the UK, but in the US you can catch it on Fox Soccer Channel. As usual, us working stiffs will have to catch it "while doing paperwork." The usual links to pages with streams will go up in the morning along with any news of the day.

Until then, enjoy Ian Holloway's thoughts on the return of Kenny Dalglish and tomorrow's match. No shortage of good will on either side heading into the match, I'd guess.

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