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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Birmingham City, 04.23.11

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The Carling Cup winners visit Anfield for the Saturday afternoon kickoff.

Five matches left, three of which come at home, and still an outside shot at European qualification. I suppose that's still the goal, even if the competition Liverpool are fighting to work their way isn't that flashy and has a set of guidelines that's sure to make you cross-eyed. Or correct your crossed eyes if you're so inclined. But Europe and all that, and also Kenny Dalglish's enduring mantra that Liverpool need to just play as well as they can and stack up the points at the end. In a season like this, getting to the finish line with an eye on the future and in good shape, both physically and emotionally, seems like success enough.

Alex McLeish's side entered the 2010-2011 season with relatively high hopes after finishing ninth last season. Successes in the Carling Cup aside, however, they've found life a bit more difficult this time around, and they currently sit five points clear of the drop with five matches left to play. Early on these struggles were born out the fact that they won only one match until the end of October to start the season; more recently they've been a bit up and down, with a 5-4-6 record since the turn of the calendar, and the loss at Stamford Bridge following a decisive 2-0 home win over Sunderland.

Birmingham will be without two of their more notable forward men in Nikola Zigic and Obafemi Martins, but they'll still have Cameron Jerome, who's been in fine form against Liverpool the past few times out. Without many forward men available we'll most likely see McLeish pack the midfield area, as he did against Chelsea, with Alexander Hleb, Barry Ferguson, Sebastian Larsson, Craig Gardner, Lee Bowyer, and Keith Fahey all possible starters. They'll again be missing Scott Dann at the back, and may go with Stuart Parnaby, Stephen Carr, Roger Johnson, and Liam Ridgewell in front of Ben Foster.

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
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Robinson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Carroll Suarez

---Familiar faces on the injury list, with Fabio Aurelio rejoining Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard, Martin Kelly, and Glen Johnson on the sidelines. There's also no news yet for Jamie Carragher and Andy Caroll, with the former suffering a concussion during a nasty clash of heads with John Flanagan and the latter taken off as a precautionary measure after doing his best to turn his right leg into a 90° angle.

---Head injuries are always worrying, and if it were any player other than Jamie Carragher I'd guess we wouldn't even discuss him as a potential starter. The talk about him being "fine" started almost immediately after the injury, though, and I imagine he was in the ears of Kenny Dalglish and the medical staff all week about playing tomorrow. If he's not fit, the only other options are Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Danny Wilson, and the former seems more likely to partner Martin Skrtel at this point. And all signs (read: everyone's fucking injured) point to both teenage fullbacks in the starting eleven, with Flanagan and Jack Robinson at right and left back respectively.

---Assuming Andy Carroll also starts, which I am, the midfield four will likely again be Dirk Kuyt, Lucas, Jay Spearing, and Raul Meireles. In the event Carroll is held out, I'd guess Maxi makes a return to the eleven with Dirk Kuyt pushed further forward to partner Luis Suarez. I'm expecting the above four names to probably play out the rest of the season so long as they stay fit---Lucas and Spearing have developed a good understanding in the middle, Kuyt's too important not to start, and Meireles, even though he's been less effective of late, is among Liverpool's best.

---The Carroll/Suarez partnership stuttered a bit last weekend, partly because of the changes Liverpool were forced into in the first half and partly because they've only managed a handful of appearances together. It's easy to forget that they're still very new, particularly on the heels of the win over Manchester City. But they still need time, and they'll get it the rest of the way as long as they're both available for selection. I get the sense that neither will be kept quiet for very long.

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

It's been the same old song and dance for Liverpool at home, where they've looked absolutely dominant for most of the season. Liverpool's ability to grab a draw in the reverse fixture at St. Andrew's back in September was largely down to the performance of Pepe Reina, and Birmingham could have easily come away with all three points. Different story this time, I think, as Anfield has proven to be one of Liverpool's only comforts in the campaign. They've continued to play a confident, suffocating brand of football for the majority of their home performances under Kenny Dalglish, and with three of the five remaining matches at home, it's vital that continues.

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

Buzz off.

Back to the confusing days of no live listings for the match in England, but stateside viewers can catch it on Fox Soccer Channel. The bruhaha about streams and p2p viewing seems to have died down quite a bit in the past month, and to be fair it never really changed anything, so if you don't have any cable service you shouldn't have a problem catching the match. Links to the usual streaming sites will accompany any noteworthy matchday news and team sheets in tomorrow's early post.

Have a nice Friday night all, and we'll hope for a nice start to the weekend tomorrow.