The last of the newly promoted sides visits Anfield tomorrow, as Neil Warnock's twelfth-placed QPR side look to continue the success experienced by Norwich and Swansea. It's been an up and down campaign so far, but with more than a few promising displays, they'll hope to match their fellow newcomers. For Liverpool it's a chance to get back to good after the Fulham disappointment, even if "good" at home hasn't led to many points this season.
And for all of us it's nice to actually watch Liverpool again, particularly with that disappointment at Craven Cottage so fresh. I think I'm wired to look forward to a match more if Liverpool have been shithouse in their previous outing; not entirely because I loathe myself and want to inflict as much emotional and physical damage as possible, which is true, but because I find that I'm stupidly hopeful that every match is the turning of the tide. So while it's maybe more concerning that we've so often felt the tide needs turning, there's football to watch, so stop being so goddamn negative.
It's been nice to have a readily identifiable hate-figure to direct our angst towards this week---the FA's almost been tripping over themselves to draw our ire, and most of us have been more than happy to oblige. But now that the attention's turned to another squad, we can recalibrate the hate to a sort of dull annoyance; Neil Warnock can't stop bitching about his demotion with Sheffield United after Liverpool's loss to Fulham on the last day of the season in 2007 but leapt to the defense of Luis Suarez, and Joey Barton is a well-renowned boob but made himself one of the most public supporters earlier this year of the release of documents about the Hillsborough tragedy.
And QPR's obviously a bit more than just Warnock and Barton, and as noted above, they've been as impressive as they have been bad through their first fourteen matches. Away from Loftus Road they've had notable success---wins over Everton, Wolves, and Stoke city---but also dismal displays, with the 0-6 result at Fulham standing out as the low point of the campaign.
Warnock's tinkered with his squad here and there but mostly relied on the strength of experience, with a litany of Premier League veterans up for a spot tomorrow. Barton's easily identifiable, as are Shawn Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, and Armand Traore. Alejandro Faurlin and Adel Taarabt are two of the holdovers from the side that won promotion last season, but the latter's likely still sidelined with a thigh strain. If out, he'll be joining first- and second-choice goalkeepers Paddy Kenny and Brian Murphy on the injury list, with Radek Cerny getting his third start of the season in goal.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
---Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Jack Robinson are all out through injury, and Jay Spearing will serve the first of his three-match ban. As of right now there's been no consequence from the FA for Luis Suarez and his vengeful middle finger, so we'll just wait and pretend that they've got some sense.
---Once again, we're looking at a full-strength back line, with none of the the principles injured or lacking in form. It wasn't their greatest showing on Monday, but there's nothing to suggest that any of them should be displaced in the eleven. There is a chance that formation, and thus personnel shifts, with semi-popular opinion being that three across the back is a something that might actually happen. If that's the case, I'd guess we see Jamie Carragher back along with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.
---I used to love Liverpool's midfield like no other. Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, Lucas, even the adorably feisty and surprisingly effective Jay Spearing were all there to welcome the summer signings. But since THERE IS NO GOD, none of them are available, we're left to wonder who fits in Liverpool's suddenly bleak midfield picture. Charlie Adam is the mainstay at this point, and Jordan Henderson's likely to make another start, but there's also been talk of Jonjo Shelvey getting involved. Whatever personnel Dalglish selects, there's a dearth of defensive sensibilities available, unless someone's recovered and reanimated the corpse of Fabio Aurelio or a defender (Agger and Martin Kelly have been suggested, as has Dirk Kuyt) steps up.
---At this point there's little convincing that should be needed---Maxi and Kuyt need to be playing, and for the time being, Andy Carroll can continue his development whilst wearing his track suit on the bench. This is not an invitation for you to tell me how right you were about him being the biggest bust ever and omghisponytailsuckstoo, so just go read Noel's piece from earlier in the week for something a little more sensible. Kuyt, Maxi, Luis Suarez, and Craig Bellamy seem like the most effective combination, but there's little chance we get it.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
I want so badly for Liverpool to thump someone beyond recognition that I can't see past it. Maybe it's not crucial, or even necessary, but after some of the self-conscious displays we've seen so far, I have a dangerously high amount of bloodlust. So often this season we've seen matches that were there for the taking only for Liverpool to fail to kill things off, and that's my exact fear for tomorrow. I want something visceral tomorrow. Tactics are sweet and all, but I wouldn't mind if tomorrow's performance was directed by Michael Bay.
It looks like most of the luck tomorrow will be on streams for those of us stateside and in England, with Fox Soccer Plus (to the tune of $15/mo.) the only station televising the match in the US and no listing available for British viewers. The streaming scene has been increasingly reliable in recent weeks, though, so we'll be sure to have plenty of options for those of us who are poor and/or English. We'll also have the team sheets in the matchday thread, which are released an hour before kickoff.
Hope you all enjoy the rest of your Friday, and for something a little more encouraging tomorrow.