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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Wolves, 01.22.11

Off to the West Midlands for Liverpool to face Mick McCarthy's Wolves.

After a flurry of matches to end 2010 and start 2011, six days without a match has seemed like an eternity.

It certainly hasn't been helped by the continuous dry hump that the Luis Suarez saga has become---I'm appreciative of the the calculated approach Damien Comolli and the owners have been taking, not so much of the constant coverage of absolutely nothing happening other than everyone having an exclusive report about absolutely nothing happening.

Tomorrow starts to get the club back into the swing of things, though, and we'll at least be able to get a better read on how Kenny Dalglish's squad will shape up. No doubt things have looked encouraging in the first few matches despite the relative lack of points, but tomorrow will come on the end of Dalglish's first full week in charge of the squad for training, so I'm hoping (and half-expecting) a more assured display from Liverpool.

They'll have to do it against a Wolves side that, like much of the competition in the Premier League, has had an up-and-down season. Seems like I write that every time I'm piecing together a preview (and I probably have), although with Wolves I don't know if there's a better way to describe a run of results that goes something like losses to Bolton and Blackpool, win over Sunderland, loss to Blackburn, win over Birmingham, loss to Wigan, win over Liverpool, loss to West Ham, win over Chelsea, loss to Manchester City.

Recent form has them stabilizing a bit, with the display at the Eastlands more than encouraging on the heels of the big win against Chelsea, and that was followed a 5-0 drubbing of Doncaster Rovers midweek in a replay of their FA Cup fixture. Depending on the results later in the day tomorrow, a continuation of that form could see the club climb out of the relegation zone.

DJ over at Wolves Offside has a run-down of how he thinks McCarthy's side will shape up---the Cliff's Notes version is a 4-4-2 with Hennessey in goal, Mouyokolo-Stearman-Berra-Zubar across the back, Karl Henry and Stephen Hunt in the midfield, and Steven Fletcher anchoring the attack. There's also possibly a place for new signing (and Liverpool old boy that's not actually very old) Adam Hammill in the midfield.

For Liverpool's current boys:

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?

Kelly Skrtel Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Cole Maxi

---Jamie Carragher remains the only player in the squad guaranteed to miss through injury, and Steven Gerrard will see out the last of his three-match ban. Rumor has it that Milan Jovanovic is suffering some sort of lasting illness, so he might be ruled out as well.

---I don't know why I keep thinking that Joe Cole will start, but I think that Joe Cole will start. Dalglish spoke highly of him after the reserves shift he put in midweek, and at some point you have to figure that he gets a run in the first team. Steven Gerrard's absence has begged for someone to fill the gap off Torres---someone not named Raul Meireles, mind---and it seems as though that's where Cole's viewed as fitting best. Depending on how Dalglish sees the squad shaping up, tomorrow might be one of the last chances for Cole to be the frontrunner in that position.

---If the display against Everton is any indication, Martin Kelly at right back and Glen Johnson at left back is a serviceable solution to Liverpool's lack of depth at fullback. Johnson looked markedly more comfortable and Kelly continued to impress, and the only way I see this breaking up is if Kelly slides in to displace the suddenly shaky Martin Skrtel. I'd also like to see a return to contention for Fabio Aurelio, but Kelly's form is probably enough to keep him out of the lineup for the time being.

---More from the department of reading too far into what Kenny Dalglish says, as it seems like Dani Pacheco is working his way back into the first team picture. Dalglish made note of Pacheco's recent displays in the reserves and called it "unfortunate" that he had to play a full 90 midweek due to the injury of David Amoo. No telling if that actually means he's near the starting eleven, but I'm guessing that it's at least closer than getting blackballed from the first team for three months.

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

The romance of the early days of Kenny Dalglish has, at least for me, given way to greater emphasis on the need for points. I'm more than happy with the club having a better sense of itself and being on better footing, but the time is quickly approaching for Liverpool to start to get results. We've seen them work their way towards complete performances---in the derby they were a 10-minute spell away from having as complete a match as we've seen all year. Tomorrow, as with the next match and the next match and so on, requires Liverpool not only to put together a complete performance, but to get the result.

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

I'm nothing if not terribly optimistic (except for the final days of the Hodgson era), so I'll say the results accompany the performance, and Liverpool escape with a 1-0 win.

If memory serves me correctly this is the earliest kickoff for Liverpool this season, as they'll have the lunchtime slot on Sky Sports 1 in the UK and the vomit-inducing pre-5:00am slot on ESPN 2 and 3 for folks in the Western US. If you're Pacific time, your best bet is probably going on a bender tonight and hoping that you don't pass out or get arrested prior to kickoff. If neither works, we'll have links for streams and news scheduled to go up about an hour before kickoff.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

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