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Match Preview: Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion, 04.02.11

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Liverpool are back from the international break to face West Brom.

And, of course, Roy Hodgson, his 6" binder's worth of experience, and all those hurt feelings.

Thankfully the opening whistle has to blow at some point, and even though we'll likely have to suffer through dozens of Hodgson-Liverpool-unfair treatment references, there's a match to be played. Unfortunately there's no telling how enjoyable that much will actually be, especially if we see from West Brom what we quickly learned to hate during the manager's time at Liverpool.

It's something of a must-win for both sides, both quantitatively and qualitatively---West Brom sit just a point above the relegation zone on 33 points and will need to get as many points as possible, and Liverpool will obviously want to get all three if they're going to make a run at European qualification over the next eight weeks.

Then there's the recent history and bad-blood and revenge-seeking on both sides that really makes it fun. Unless things end 0-0. Then it's just sort of whatever.

Hodgson's time at West Brom has been a bit of a redux of his Liverpool tenure in that he's overseen draws, leaky defenses, and has spoken loads about how difficult the Barclays Premier League really is, but excellent effort from the lads and the other side was really quite good and so on. Since Hodgson's appointment the club have gone 1-4-0, drawing with West Ham (which doesn't really count), Wolves, Stoke, and Arsenal, and getting an away victory at St. Andrew's over Birmingham in early March. And, as you'll remember from the reverse fixture back in August, they're capable of giving Liverpool problems. Or at least that version of Liverpool.

Hodgson will have the club's leading goalscorer, Peter Odemwingie, back from injury, and Marc-Antoine Fortuné up front, but there's a chance he'll be missing Arsenal loanee Carlos Vela, who only recently returned from international duty with Mexico. Vela hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup but scored twice in two games in February after coming on as a late substitute. Youssuf Mulumbu and James Morrison will provide support from the midfield, and Jonas Olsson, Chris Brunt, Abdoulaye Meite, and Nicky Shorey are likely to fill out the back line in front of former Liverpool man Scott Carson.

For more from a West Brom perspective, check out Noel's sit-down with internet legend Ethan Dean-Richards, who runs the most excellent website Surreal Football.

For 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?

Reina
Carragher Skrtel Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas Spearing
Kuyt Carroll Suarez

---Still no Fabio Aurelio and Martin Kelly, both of whom suffered some sort of setback in training over the past week or so. Steven Gerrard's racing back for full fitness, Jonjo Shelvey and his wang are back, and the Luis Suarez knock that forced him out of international duty seems like a non-issue.

---I'd love to see Steven Gerrard back in the squad, as that would give Liverpool an eleven that's very close to their strongest. I don't know that it's in the cards, though, as he's been increasingly suspect to the odd knock here and there, and a quick return to match action after surgery is asking a lot. That leaves a spot in the side for Jay Spearing I'd guess, who did well against Sunderland and has to be ahead of 0028 in the pecking order.

---Assuming Suarez is ready to go, and there's nothing to indicate that he won't be, tomorrow should be another opportunity for the January signings to further develop their partnership up top. Andy Carroll got his first England goal on Tuesday night and played nearly 60 minutes, so three days' rest should be enough for him to get his second league start. Dirk Kuyt will fit in somehow, whether that's alongside Carroll and Suarez or on the right side of a 4-4-2.

---All we need to know at the back is that Daniel Agger came through the international break without injury, so I'm guessing he partners Martin Skrtel in the center with Jamie Carragher on the right once again. That leaves Glen Johnson on the left, where he'll likely remain until Martin Kelly or Fabio Aurelio is healthy. So once Kelly returns, then.

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

It's nearly impossible to generate any sort of momentum when you've only played two league matches in the span of a month, even if you've won them both in relatively stylish fashion. Regardless, Liverpool have two league wins on the trot, and will need to carry any sort of good tidings with them into the crucial final stretch. Whether it's away or at Anfield, regardless of the style, or lack thereof, of the opposition, Liverpool need to find their form and keep it there, and that starts tomorrow.

Oh, and not losing to Roy Hodgson and all that.

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

Liverpool have to come out on top here---we know it's got a great chance to be horrifically ugly, but I think there's more than enough to tip the match in Liverpool's favor. 2-0 to the Reds.

Even though it's completely overblown and will likely drive you mad, this is one demands live viewing, if only for the chance that this will happen. Unfortunately that looks like a tall order in England, as there's no live listing at the time of writing. It doesn't get much easier for most folks stateside, with Fox bumping the match to Fox Soccer Plus. That might make streams a bit more sparse, but there's sure to be something available immediately prior to kickoff. We'll have links and team sheets in the matchday thread early tomorrow, along with any significant news in the run-up.

In the meantime, enjoy your Friday as you imagine any number of Hodgepocalypse scenarios. My favorite has nothing to do with the match:

Roy Hodgson dims the lights in the study of his recently-acquired West Midlands cottage late tonight, placing his Prokofiev record on the phonograph, gently setting his glass of scotch just-so on a doily coaster his wife knitted, dipping his quill in a crystal ink bottle, and mumbling softly to himself as he draws long, thick, delicately crafted hoofing arrows from Scott Carson to Marc-Antoine Fortuné on the projected team sheet, codename Vengeance, that he's prepared on custom-made letterhead with his CV running all along the border.

Then, as Dance of the Knights begins and the glass of scotch sits nearly emptied, he stands up and cackles wildly as he twirls around the study, choreographing his triumphant pitch exit after the most vindicating victory of his illustrious 36 year career: