It's back to Anfield for Liverpool as they host Blackburn in the penultimate match of 2011. Home victories have been hard to come by for Kenny Dalglish's squad, with only three wins in their eight matches at Anfield. There's no better opposition for remedying that problem than tomorrow's, though, as they'll face a Rovers side that's winless in eight away fixtures and stapled to the bottom of the Premier League table.
First off, happy holidays and all that to everyone. Hopefully you've managed to stay healthy and safe and spent time with family, and that you also got all the useless things you asked for that you'll forget about by the end of February. Less than a week away from the day we all use as an excuse to get blind drunk and act like idiots, it's nice to have a lower key day to lay around and relax.
Unless you're Steve Kean, in which case you likely spent the holiday sifting through the classifieds on Craigslist. It's been a magnificently terrible season for Kean, both in terms of the results he's overseen and the criticism he's received from Rovers supporters. Through it all he's managed to stay annoyingly positive, most recently reporting his optimism that he'll get loads and loads of chicken money in January to spend on players he won't have the opportunity to manage.
The disappointment from supporters is well-founded, as Kean has overseen a first-half stretch that's only included two wins in league---the first, against Arsenal, came in mid-September, and they'd have to wait until earlier this month for the 4-2 victory over Swansea City. They had a fairly successful run to the quarterfinals of the League Cup before losing at Cardiff, but it's mostly been a miserable season on Lancashire.
Part of the struggle for Kean is the inconsistency in his squad, with only Paul Robinson starting every league match. Rumored Liverpool target Junior Hoilett and Bubbles doppelganger Steven N'Zonzi lead the outfield players with fifteen starts, and each of Gael Givet, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Christopher Samba, and Yakubu (who leads the squad with ten league goals) featuring regularly. Kean will be without Scott Dann, Ryan Nelsen, Martin Olsson, and Gael Givet, and Robinson will be looking to start despite a torn calf muscle.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Henderson Bellamy
---Steven Gerrard is edging ever-nearer to a return and might be on the bench, which leaves Fabio Aurelio, Lucas, and Jack Robinson as the only for-sure absences.
---Another clean sheet despite the poor result at Wigan added to the growing body of evidence that Liverpool's defensive unit is among the finest in England. This fixture could tempt Kenny Dalglish to spell Glen Johson and/or one of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, but there's been nothing guaranteed for Liverpool to this point, and they'll need to continue their fine form of late tomorrow.
---Jay Spearing's eligible again, which means that there's ostensibly a ready-made solution for the lack of defensive presence we saw in the midfield against Wigan. If he comes in, and assuming Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam retain their places as well, the safe bet is on Spearing to partner Adam and have Henderson push further forward. And while Dirk Kuyt couldn't finish anything against Wigan, he's preferable to Stewart Downing, whose downward slide hasn't halted. That leaves Maxi or Craig Bellamy on the other flank, and with the Argentinean getting the start on Wednesday while Bellamy came off the bench, I'm guessing the roles are reversed.
---Suarezgate is going to drag out until at least this time next season, so in the meantime he'll continue to play up top with questions about where and when Andy Carroll fits. It wouldn't be a complete shock to see Carroll start tomorrow, but there's too many other options that make more sense right now (e.g., Suarez-Kuyt, Suarez-Bellamy, etc.).
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
The desire to see Liverpool hammer someone has only grown stronger in the past few weeks---whenever they're lined up to face someone that seems to be a willing recipient of a 5-0 spanking, the posts grow by half a foot and people taking penalties decide that making them is too boring. So obviously winning is the most important thing, but doing so confidently in front of the home support, which has barely happened this season, is long overdue.
For the first time in awhile we'll be without concrete listings in the UK or the US, with only FoxSoccer.tv carrying the match live. Streams have been a mostly reliable option so far, though, and those will be posted along with teamsheets in the matchday thread around an hour before kickoff. Our scheduling got a little wonky with the holiday and trying to wrap up the calendar year, but we'll be picking back up with normal service.
See you back here in a bit, and let's hope there's still plenty of room left for more holiday cheer.