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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Fulham, 01.26.11

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Liverpool face Fulham in the second of the two rearranged fixtures.

We can probably all agree that this is a slightly better time for Liverpool to be facing...anyone, yes?

You Hodgsonphiles will likely miss the romance inherent when a former manager faces his old club---the admiring gazes exchanged prior to the opening whistle, the friendly pats on the back when they encounter one another, the loving cheers from the former supporters, and the rapture everyone experiences when they're watching two teams compete to see whose centerbacks can kick the ball furthest.

Shame we had to move on, really.

But we must, and we move on to focus our attentions on Liverpool's detoxification from hoofing addicts to a team that fancies themselves quite decent at passing and moving. The performance on Saturday was what we've been waiting for, and now's the time for this squad's progression to take precedence. Or, you know, we can just continue to focus on the lack of activity in the transfer window and get all panicky and work ourselves into a fit that the owners are doing exactly what they said they'd do and ohmigod why hasn't anything happened yet it's just like the previous owners why are my testicles orange it's a disaster.

Well then. Fulham make their 30th league visit tomorrow come hell or high water, and they'll come in search of their first victory in that many visits. The London side have been in decent form since the start of the new year---spurred on by a late December win away to Stoke (which ended a streak of nearly two months without a win), they've since won three in all competitions and lost only once in a narrow 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane.

Clint Dempsey was the hero this past weekend, netting twice to give Fulham their second 2-0 win over Stoke on the season. The American has been in good form for the Cottagers, leading the squad in scoring and asserting himself as one of the side's top playmakers up front in lieu of the long-term injury to Bobby Zamora. Regular goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is away at the Asian Cup with Australia, but backup David Stockdale has been fantastic in between the posts and hasn't lost in any of his eight starts. The rest of the squad will likely play out as expected, with Danny Murphy anchoring the midfield alongside Simon Davies and Hughes-Hangeland-Baird-Paintsil across the back. Andy Johnson clawed out of his own grave in recent weeks, and he could provide support for Dempsey from the front.

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?

Reina
Kelly Skrtel Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi
Torres

---Only injury of note at the time of writing is Jamie Carragher's, but rest assured someone will get hurt in the next 24 hours. Mostly likely suspects include Joe Cole, Fabio Aurelio, Fabio Aurelio, or Joe Cole.

---Steven Gerrard makes his return to the squad after his three match ban, and there's little doubt that he slides back into the eleven with relative ease. The big question that comes along with that is how Kenny Dalglish navigates the conundrum created by Raul Meireles' stint as deity against Wolves---does Gerrard push back to central midfield to partner Lucas with Meireles more advanced, or does Meireles return to the position he'd been thriving in prior to thriving...more at the weekend? Might not be as complicated as I'm making it out to be, as Dalglish has shown a preference for a more fluid three man midfield, but it'll be interesting nonetheless.

---Even with a relatively short resting period, I'd guess we get most of the same eleven that faced Wolves, with Gerrard for Christian Poulsen the only change. For me, one of the more encouraging changes that's been made since Dalglish has arrived is the workload he's placed on the players. Obviously fitness will continue to come into play, but he hasn't treated what he feels to be his best eleven as if they've had FRAGILE stamped on their foreheads. There's times when the best eleven will need a break, but with seven days between tomorrow and the next match, I think there's more than enough time for recovery.

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

Bottling the performance from the weekend and successfully adding Steven Gerrard to that mix. No telling where Liverpool would be if they'd played like that all season, and that's obviously what we're looking for from now until May. Getting exactly that will, of course, be nearly impossible, but with almost all of the first team fully fit and ready for selection, the challenge is going to be performing at a level that earns results regardless of the personnel. No doubt that Gerrard can make the team better, and he's clearly a vital component moving forward. Finding the balance with him involved might take some work, though, so hopefully tomorrow we see a relatively seamless return.

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

Continuing the positive trend, I see Liverpool winning 2-0. At Anfield, on the heels of their best 90 minutes of the season, and looking forward to better things to come.

Right now I'm not sure where exactly this one's going to be broadcast in the UK, as the official site doesn't have any listing. It is on Fox Soccer Channel for those in the US, so if you're off work or have FSC.tv you should probably be able to do the legal thing. Otherwise there'll be streams and links up tomorrow morning along with any news leading up to kickoff. Unless it has to do with transfer reports of active inactivity.

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your Tuesday, and take solace in knowing that you won't have to suffer through any run-of-the-mill xenophobia and bland, generic hyperbole for your matchday experience.