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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Wigan, 12.21.11


Liverpool's brief road swing continues (and wraps up) tomorrow night in Wigan, with the Reds looking to continue a bounce-back after the Fulham loss that's seen them win their last two fairly comfortably despite relatively narrow score lines. Wigan will be in a similar spot after getting points in four of their last five, including an away win at the Hawthorns after faltering badly at home to Arsenal, and, in their last outing, saving a late draw against Chelsea at the DW on Saturday.

It'd be terrific to entirely shift focus from yesterday's events, but there's little ignoring the collective uproar at yesterday's decision from the FA to ban Luis Suarez for eight matches and fine him £40,000. We don't need to completely rehash the details---Noel did a terrific job yesterday drawing out the concerns in a more level-headed manner than we saw anywhere else, despite the blanket assumption that anyone who wanted to see what the FA's actual evidence was must be neo-Nazis that only care about football and not human beings and feelings and other stuff that you should feel bad about too.

There likely won't be any impact on his ability to feature tomorrow, however, at least in terms of his ban. Which, given the fact that it's in front of opposition supporters, creates a fair question about what's best for the player and what's best for the team. On the one hand you figure that he should feature until the ban kicks in---which would mean Oldham in the FA Cup would be the first---but there's also discussion about the club ruling out an appeal, which would leave him out of tomorrow's squad, with the ban ending against Bolton in January. And obviously, if the FA prove that yesterday's decision had proper justification and is more than just a reactive attempt at sending a message based on tenuous evidence, Suarez deserves to serve every minute of the ban whenever it kicks in.

Regardless, Wigan will be ready to go tomorrow, with the aforementioned results over the past three weeks contributing more than half of their points on the season. And while they'll be boosted by the late equalizer against Chelsea at the weekend, they're still in the bottom three, and they've only gone one match at home all season without conceding. Things don't get any easier after tomorrow for Roberto Martinez and company, as they'll head to Old Trafford and the Brittania before their next home date.

The standouts of late for Martinez have been Victor Moses and Mohamed Diame, and while he's conceded 30 goals on the year, Ali Al-Habsi has been improved of late and provided a boost at the back. Against Chelsea Martinez opted for the same eleven that defeated West Brom ten days ago, which included Al-Habsi in goal behind Ronnie Stam, Antolin Alcaraz, Gary Caldwell, and Maynor Figueroa, with David Jones, Diame, Jordi Gomez, and James McCarthy through the midfield and Moses and Conor Sammon up front. Martinez doesn't have much to worry about with injuries, as Hugo Rodallega is back, leaving only Emmerson Boyce ruled out.

For Liverpool:

Who starts for Liverpool?

Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Henderson Adam
Kuyt Maxi
Suarez Carroll

---Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Fabio Aurelio, and Jack Robinson all miss out with longer-term injuries (in the case of Aurelio, it's roughly his entire life), and Jay Spearing will serve the last of his three-match ban. And as noted above, the availability of Luis Suarez will depend on the club's approach to the FA's ban.

---Stick with what works at the back, even though it's only a few days after the win at Villa Park. None of the back four were tested with any frequency or intensity as Aston Villa didn't piece together any sort of meaningful attack. That should leave fresh legs for all the principals of a defensive unit that's combined with Pepe Reina (and timely assistance through the midfield and beyond) to put up the best defensive record in the league.

---It didn't seem like Charlie Adam or Jordan Henderson were all that active against Villa either, and it would make sense that Kenny Dalglish would opt to pick them again. They weren't quite as impressive as a week and a half ago against QPR, but they got the job done and were boosted by the addition of Jonjo Shelvey in an advanced midfield role. I'm tentative that we'll see Shelvey again on such short notice, but wouldn't be completely surprised if he got another start. Instead of Shelvey I'm guessing for a return to the eleven for both Dirk Kuyt and Maxi, as well as a return to the previously preferred 4222.

---My reasoning for that is that Liverpool are going to have to adjust without Luis Suarez at some point, and while they may be able to use him now, there's going to be some significant time without him available. That means time for Andy Carroll, and even though he won't be playing alongside Suarez while the Uruguayan is suspended, he'll need to start logging minutes. Whether or not you're a fan, he's going to be a part of a very significant stretch in Liverpool's season, so we'll have to hope he's able to make an impact. And a start for Suarez might be risky for any number of reasons, but Dalglish has been bullish when he feels his squad's been backed into a corner, so I'm not betting against it.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

We'll have to hope that Dalglish's Liverpool can either compartmentalize like no other or have a freakish ability to channel outer turmoil into sparkling displays on the pitch. It can't be an easy task to re-focus a squad after yesterday's calamity, although it's not like they don't have experience with that sort of disquiet this year. I think the best we can hope for is a display that's consistent with what we've seen from Liverpool away from Anfield this season. And maybe that it's televised without commentary. If we see that, I'm confident they'll get the result they need. Then the discussion can return to shouting.

Viewers in England will have a chance to catch this one live on Sky Sports 1, and those stateside are left to hope that they've got a provider that gets that for those of you on a military base or a college campus (or off-campus with a VPN), you'll get it regardless. That service works on some cell service providers as well, so it's turning into an increasingly accessible option. For those who won't get either, though, we should have plenty of streams available, so check back a few hours before kickoff in the matchday thread, which will be updated with team sheets around an hour before the opening whistle.

Hope you all have/had a nice start to the day, and let's hope for a finish that's a little more promising than yesterday's.

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