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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 11.29.11


It's back to Stamford Bridge for Liverpool as they seek progression to the semifinals of the League Cup for the first time since 2005. The timing of the fixture makes it challenging for both sides---for Liverpool, who've sent out strong squads in each of their three wins in the competition, it's cause for serious questions about who and what we'll see. Selection might not be as challenging for the hosts, as Andre Villas-Boas has opted to use squads with clear second-string and younger players, but regardless, it's going to make for an interesting meeting.

It's doubtful this one will look anything like Liverpool's trip to West London last weekend, when they spent the first half on the front foot and pressured Chelsea relentlessly before getting the winner in the final minutes. That's not to say Liverpool can't come away with the win; rather, I think they have a really good chance at advancing, but I'm guessing they'll go about it differently. Or they won't and they'll still win, and I'll come off looking like a moron, as per usual.

Whoever it ends up being, they'll face a Chelsea side with highly touted youngsters rounding out what'll likely look like a reserve squad. Their first time out in the competition was plenty nervy, as they survived a missed penalty from Fulham early in the second half and the sending off of Alex to win in a shootout. Against Everton in the last round they managed a 2-1 victory despite another sending off---this time back-up goalkeeper Ross Turnbull---as Daniel Sturridge got the winner in the second half of extra time.

As mentioned, Chelsea have used a fairly predictable mix of backups and youngsters; Josh McEachran, Ryan Bertrand, Romelu Lukaku, and Oriol Romeu started in both wins, but it'll be interesting to see what Villas-Boas does given Romeu's inclusion on Saturday and the fact that Fernando Torres hasn't made a start since the draw with Genk at the beginning of the month. I'd guess McEachran and Bertrand are locks in the midfield and left-back respectively, but I wouldn't be surprised if Romeu and Lukaku were on the bench to start. Some combination of veterans round out the rest of their eleven, with Branislav Ivanovic, Paolo Ferreira, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou, and Florent Malouda all getting starts across the two matches, while John Terry (suspension) and Raul Meireles (cup-tied) are both ruled out.

For Liverpool:

Who starts for Liverpool?

Kelly Carragher Coates Aurelio
Lucas Spearing
Kuyt Maxi
Carroll Bellamy

---Steven Gerrard remains injured, and Jack Robinson, who would have at least made the squad tomorrow, is out as well. As Kenny Dalglish mentioned earlier in the day, though, it's likely there's a whole host of fitness concerns given the fact that barely 36 hours have passed since the draw with City at Anfield.

---The back line seems to be the only area where there's a fairly predictable set, with Martin Kelly and Jamie Carragher certain to make their returns, and Sebastian Coates likely to get another start. Coates has played in two of the three matches so far, sparkling last time out against Stoke aside from the lapse in judgment that led to their opener. That leaves left back as the only question mark, and with Robinson injured and Jose Enrique yet to make an appearance in the competition, a possibly fit Fabio Aurelio is the best guess. Outside shot that he pushes forward to the midfield alongside Spearing, in which case I'd bank on Danny Wilson's involvement.

---Spearing's a near-lock to start, and his partner will either have to be Lucas or Charlie Adam. If it's one of these two I'd guess Lucas, but it'd be nice to get him some rest on the front end of a four week stretch that sees Liverpool play six matches. Further forward I'm sure Maxi returns, and Dalglish will have Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, or Dirk Kuyt to choose from. Given Kuyt's inability to get tired, ever, I'd pick him, even though the other two might be just as likely.

---Andy Carroll's got to start up front, and if Craig Bellamy's ready to go, he'll provide support either alongside or just off the number nine. A start for Luis Suarez would be suprising but not necessarily a complete shock---he's started every League cup match so far and scored three in the competition, although for the amount of running he does, on the back of a busy summer, 48 hours just seems too short a recovery time.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

Dalglish has made no secret about how much importance he's placed on this competition, and so far he's been rewarded with three mostly solid displays. Tomorrow's easily the biggest test, and regardless of who he ends up picking, and despite the fact that I don't think they'll approach it the same way they did last Sunday, they'll need to continue to play confident, aggressive football. I think top to bottom, any eleven Dalglish picks can give Chelsea a run for their money. For all the inconsistencies that we've seen this season, the one thing we haven't questioned is the commitment of whatever squad is selected, and that'll need to continue tomorrow.

Right now there's no listing for UK viewers, and Fox Soccer Plus on delay is the only viewing option stateside, but I'm sure Australian supporters are basking in the sun, drinks in hand, waiting for their HD glory to appear. The rest of us will have to rely on streams, which will be linked in the matchday thread a few hours before kickoff. As usual, team sheets will follow shortly after as the opening whistle approaches.

So while it might be challenging for the squad, and yet another cock-up by the English footballing bureaucracy, this many matches in such a short period of time is something to be relished, particularly with the club seemingly on the up. See you all back here in a bit.

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