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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Wigan, 02.12.11

Wigan visit Anfield for the Saturday afternoon kickoff.

I always get this giddy feeling for the first match back from an international break---doesn't matter who the opponent is or what the competition is, so long as most of the squad comes back fit and they've had a chance to get rested. Probably doesn't hurt that Liverpool have won four straight and there's more positivity around the club than we've seen in almost two years. Small matter, though.

Tomorrow's also, as Kenny Dalglish has been so quick to remind everyone, a match like any other, and it's another opportunity for Liverpool to continue to move forward. Not sure if it's because I've been watching too many Dalglish pressers lately, but the "match at a time" mantra has become something to look forward to rather than curse at, and the occasional detour into fantasizing about better things to come is welcomed.

So while tomorrow's opponent is in the bottom three and Liverpool are coming off an emotional victory in their last league match, they'll do well to focus on the task at hand. Roberto Martinez and Wigan have had their share of struggles this season, but their form since December may be a sign that things are gradually turning around. The Latics have only lost three times since the start of December, and they've only really been out of the 3-0 loss to Arsenal towards the end of January. And, despite your feverish attempts at erasing your memories of this season prior to early January, there's the 1-1 draw in November that saw Liverpool storm out of the gates and then tuck into the fetal position for 80 minutes.

There's a chance that Martinez won't be missing any of his regulars---Gary Caldwell suffered a broken cheekbone against West Brom on the first of the month, but there's talk that he'll be available with a mask to cover the injury. James McCarthy's been the man on form of late, and while he missed out on Ireland's friendly midweek, he should be ready tomorrow. There's also Hugo Rodallega and Charles N'Zogbia to worry about, both of whom will pose a threat in attack. Through the midfield and at the back they're nearly at full strength, with Maynor Figueroa's hamstring the only fitness concern.

Turning 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?

Kelly Carragher Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas Gerrard
Maxi Kuyt Suarez

---Andy Carroll, Jonjo Shelvey, and Jay Spearing look to be the only significant injuries at the present time. We know that Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, and Martin Kelly were held out of their respective matches midweek, but we're left to hope that none is too impaired to give it a go tomorrow. Also, Joe Cole?

---There's little sense pretending that we know how Kenny Dalglish will line Liverpool up tomorrow---the above is a best guess at both formation and personnel. Regardless I'm hoping that we see Luis Suarez get a full run-out up front, and that Liverpool's emphasis shifts back to the front foot after their sparkling team effort at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Much less of a worry under Dalglish, but still worth noting.

---Again, the above personnel are based on four at the back and two fluid three-man lines moving forward. If it's again three at the back, I'd guess we see Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, and either Martin Skrtel or Sotirios Kyrgiakos (depending on Skrtel's fitness), with Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly sliding up to midfield. With four at the back, though, I think Skrtel's the odd man out on both form and fitness.

---The front five or six is again tempered by the way Liverpool line up at the back, so it becomes a slightly messy guessing game. Much more fun that earlier in the season, mind you, but still not straightforward. With three at the back you'd guess for a more attack-minded diamond in the midfield. Four at the back makes the pieces ostensibly fit a little easier, with Suarez alongside Kuyt and Maxi. The latter is maybe the biggest question mark after his struggles at Stamford Bridge, but there aren't many clear-cut candidates to fill the void. Maybe a Dani Pacheco surprise?

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

The adaptability and transition of the squad under Dalglish and Steve Clarke has been lauded since they both settled in, and tomorrow they'll be tasked with transitioning back to being on the front foot. Playing confidently and continuing to push forward might be the biggest challenge---against Everton, Fulham, and Stoke at Anfield, Liverpool were able to push in front but struggled to find a way to put the match beyond doubt. The Stoke match was the only one in which Liverpool were eventually able to do so, and you'll take a win any way you can get it. But it'd be nice to see Liverpool press at home and kill one off.

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

I think (and hope) that tomorrow we see that Liverpool, to the tune of a relaxed 2-0 win. Another clean sheet, another Suarez goal, and the forward momentum continuing.

This looks like another one that's not televised live in the UK, but US viewers can catch it on Fox Soccer Channel. Streams and links will be up late tonight or early tomorrow morning if you need to catch it on the computer---fair warning that the stream community has been a little shaky of late, so please let us know if you find any that are up and running.

Have a nice Friday everyone, and let's hope the weekend starts off on a high note.

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