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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Blackburn, 01.05.11

Back to the road for Liverpool as they visit Rovers at Ewood.

"This time will be different," my heart tells me. "No, it won't," my head says. "Oh."

An away match, celebrate! Oh, nevermind that, Roy Hodgson is still at the helm, and as Dion Fanning so warmly and cruelly reminded us months ago, Hodgson's squads are "a walking, talking three points for the home side."

But it's the first of four this month for Hodgson and Liverpool, a frightening prospect to be certain, and it doesn't need repeating that if Liverpool are truly going to turn things in a direction other than "plummet, quickly" they'll need to start picking up meaningful points away from Anfield. The match against Bolton on Saturday proved that they can do so in front of the home crowd (even at less than full capacity, grumble grumble), but there's been little convincing that Hodgson's squad can get it done on the road.

They'll have to do it against one of December's busiest and most up-and-down teams in Rovers---the Lancashire side played six matches in the month (compared to Liverpool's two) and ran the gamut of results, ranging from a 2-0 home defeat to Stoke to a 3-0 drubbing of Wolves at Ewood. Sam Allardyce started the month as the man in charge, but after the 2-1 away defeat to Bolton, Steve Kean's taken the helm and steered the squad to a 1-1-2 record.

Tomorrow will be a stretch for Kean's squad, as he'll be missing no less than nine squad members. The return of captain Christopher Samba will provide a boost for the home side, but the absences of Brett Emerton and Nikola Kalanic will surely be felt. Rovers will have their mainstays in Morten Gamst Pedersen, Michel Salgado, Gael Givet, Ryan Nelsen, and, to the delight of Liverpool fans everywhere, El Hadj Diouf. Bank on at least one delightfully arrogant moment from the former Liverpool man, sure to be followed by a brief discussion of his recent comments about Jamie Carragher and the resounding failure of his Liverpool tenure. Over to you, Jon Champion.

And over 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?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Kyrgiakos Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Maxi
Ngog Torres

---The absence of Raul Meireles clutters things a bit; we found out earlier in the day that the midfielder will miss tomorrow's match for sure after suffering an ankle injury in the opening minutes against Bolton. He joins Jamie Carragher and Jay Spearing on the injury list.

---This lineup seems most likely for Hodgson---Meireles out makes it easy for Hodgson to slide Steven Gerrard back into central midfield and leave David Ngog alongside Fernando Torres. I don't know that this is the best way to use the available personnel, but I think it's most likely. If it's anything like the performance from the second half on Saturday, it can work, but it depends on the approach Hodgson mandates for his personnel.

---Any number of things could (and maybe should) be different above; Paul Konchesky could very well displace Fabio Aurelio at left back, Martin Skrtel could end up partnering Daniel Agger or Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and the midfield and forwards areas have plenty of potentialities. I think Agger's necessary, though, especially if Liverpool are going to change the way they play away from home.

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

Consistency, and not consistency at turning into an impotent mess away from Anfield. Like we discussed after Saturday's match, the carry-over from the second half against Bolton could signal a change in the way things are done for Hodgson's squad (preferably without Hodgson). So maybe it's more the development of the type of consistency that leads to success for Liverpool rather than folding up like a deck chair on foreign soil.

For this club it means playing the ball forward on the floor, passing and moving with some sort of positive emphasis, and maintain possession for meaningful portions of the match. It doesn't need to be overwhelmingly complex---when Liverpool revert to hoof, defend, hoof, the results are nothing short of a disaster. They leave themselves little chance for winning when that's the case, so developing a consistent pattern of actually playing football is going to be pivotal.

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

For all the talk about not being certain of any lasting changes for Hodgson and Liverpool, I'm going to say they pull this one out 2-0. Leaving myself open for ridicule and hindsight-informed mocking? Of course.

Midweek kickoffs are always tricky, particularly stateside, but at least this one will be televised live in the States on Fox Soccer Plus. As with the Bolton match, no word on how it'll be played in the UK, but I'm sure it's somewhere. If you're at work or don't have cable, links for streams and matchday news will be here in the morning.

Until then, enjoy your Tuesday.

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