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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Fulham, 05.09.11

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Liverpool take their late surge for European football to Craven Cottage.

Results yesterday were just a shade away from being completely perfect for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool. First Manchester City conceded two second half goals after taking the lead to drop all three points at Everton, and later in the day Blackpool drew with Spurs at White Hart Lane in a match that very easily could have seen the visitors come away with a win. That leaves Liverpool a point behind Spurs and seven back of Manchester City, with those two set to play on Tuesday at the City of Manchester Stadium.

For now the focus has to turn to Fulham, though, as we can't rely only on table watching and attempting strange drunken hexes on everybody we don't like. Mark Hughes' side has been in blistering home form since the turn of the year, winning eight of ten and averaging two and a half goals per game. Away from home it's been a different story, but Fulham have been very, very good at Craven Cottage in 2011. Hughes has given Fulham a bit more attacking impetus than they had under Roy Hodgson, which is where most of the goals have come from, but they've also been able to keep clean sheets in their last two matches.

Fulham might also have a boost in the way of the returning Clint Dempsey, who missed last week's win over Sunderland after suffering a hamstring strain, and Brede Hangeland, who missed out through illness. The hosts will be without Damien Duff and Zoltan Gera, but other than those two Hughes should have a full squad to choose from. Against Sunderland that meant a back line of Phillippe Senderos, Aaron Hughes, Carlos Salcido, and Chris Baird in front of Mark Schwarzer, but it's a safe bet that Hangeland will return to the starting eleven if he's healthy. Danny Murphy will likely anchor the midfield alongside some combination of Dempsey, Steve Sidwell, Simon Davies, and Eidur Gudjohnsen, with Bobby Zamora, Moussa Dembele, and Gael Kakuta as options up front.

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 Johnson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Carroll Suarez

---Apparently now we're tracking the fitness of Milan Jovanovic along with the rest of the usual suspects, as the little-used Serbian apparently picked up a knee injury in the past few weeks. He's expected to be in the running to make the squad along with Fabio Aurelio, but Liverpool will still be without Martin Kelly, Steven Gerrard, and Daniel Agger.

---Glen Johnson made a surprise return last week and displaced Jack Robinson, and if Johnson is still fit he'll likely start at left back with John Flanagan on the right. Their switch for the second half was a temporary fix, and while both performed admirably afterwards, there's no indication that it'll continue. And as long as they're fit, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel should see out the season in central defense.

---Once again, the midfield personnel is contingent on whether or not Andy Carroll is fit to start up front. Against Newcastle we got another good shift from Maxi, but I think he's pushed out with Carroll making a return. That leaves Lucas and Jay Spearing in the middle with Raul Meireles left and Dirk Kuyt sliding back to the right; as with last week, if we don't get Carroll, the best bet is Meireles right and Maxi left, with Kuyt pushing up to partner Luis Suarez.

---We don't have any news on Andy Carroll's fitness, but if he was close to full fitness prior to the Newcastle fixture I'd guess he's ready to go for tomorrow. There was a bit of a rumble last week about the amount of attention paid to Carroll and his place in the squad; in lieu of an extended justification of focusing on him, I'll just say that it's clear he's going to be a large part of the club's future, along with Luis Suarez, and I'm guessing they'd like for the future to get going as soon as possible.

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

A few weeks back I talked about the need for consistency in this Liverpool squad---throughout the season they've followed big wins with disappointing draws or losses, turning in performances that belie the quality that they've shown. Most of those disappointments have come away from Anfield, as Liverpool have managed to put together some of the best home form in the Premier League.

It's obviously been a very different story on the road, and while we've seen improvements in the past few months along with everything else, tomorrow's still a very nervy prospect. Craven Cottage is a difficult place to play for any side, and it's got the potential to give Liverpool a difficult time tomorrow. We'll have to hope for the type of performances we saw at the Stadium of Light and Stamford Bridge rather than the Hawthorns and Upton Park if Liverpool are going to come away with the result.

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

This question remains for continuity only.

For the second match in a row we've got a tricky kickoff time---last week was a pain in the ass because it fell around lunchtime in Liverpool and all sorts of whenevers everywhere else, and this week it comes smack in the middle of the workday for most viewers on the other side of the Atlantic. The good news is that Sky Sports 1 has coverage in England and ESPN2 and ESPN3.com will air the match in the US. There will obviously be streams and ways to watch in other areas as well, and we'll have links for those along with team sheets in the matchday thread tomorrow morning.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and if your country fits the bill, Happy Mother's Day. I'll be celebrating for the first time with my wife and our four week old son, so it's not likely that I'll be around much, but hopefully you and yours have a great day.