April 23, 2011, 19:25 PM – Live on ESPN!
4th marks the spot. Liverpool are inching closer to Champions League qualification, that being the most realistic target for the Reds in an ill-fated season. So far, their post Hodgson Era has been commendable and everybody at Anfield will be hoping to end the season knowing that the Liverpool bus will be travelling across Europe next season. The Reds walk into this game after a hard-earned draw at the Emirates and will be looking to dent Birmingham’s hopes of survival in the top flight. Although the Blues are sitting in the 15th spot, they are quite close to the relegation muzzle; being just 5 points ahead of the drop zone. And in such a situation, facing a reviving Reds team is not always the easiest game to be in. Liverpool haven’t lost at home under Dalglish so far this season and having gotten so close to the fourth spot, they wouldn’t really want to throw it away by conceding defeat against Birmingham City.
Birmingham however, have not been an easy opponent for the big guns. A team that does boast of resolute defending, the Blues have made life difficult for the top teams this season. But that was at home, at St.Andrews. The midweek defeat against Chelsea has pinched the team’s chances of surviving in the Premier League and going by the history of results that the Liverpool-Birmingham games have produced, the Blues will be happy with any points that they can salvage. The two teams have drawn their last seven games against each other but a win this time is necessary for both the managers. A draw this time would set the record for the most number of consecutive draws for a fixture in the Premier League.
Will McLeish Save Birmingham Again?
Team News and Tactical Brief
Liverpool seems to have regained its focus and teamwork, alongside individual contribution is starting to show on the pitch. The only worry for Kenny Dalglish right now would be the inclusion of youngsters who have had no previous Premier League experience whatsoever. Jay Spearing has had his run of games and has proved to be a good value-add but John Flanagan and Jack Robinson are teenagers who really need to settle into rhythm. They are players full of promise no doubt, but Dalglish needs to be careful not to go too far with them if he does have first team options. This is mainly due to the fact that the Reds are still gunning for the Champions League spot and cannot afford to slip up in the race for fourth.
The Reds have been swimming in a sea of injuries this year. First, the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger; and then recently, another pillar of the club, Jamie Carragher, was stretchered off the pitch in the game against Arsenal. Fabio Aurelio has had a troubled season after being welcomed back to the squad and needs his share of luck to continue injury-free for the rest of the season. As for the game against Birmingham, he would sit this one out. And with the absence of Johnson at right back, it means that Flanagan and Robinson would start again.
The physios will take a late call on the fitness of Andy Carroll after the player picked up a knock against Arsenal last week. Although he was taken off the pitch for a couple of minutes, the Geordie was brought back on and carried on for a little longer before Dalglish decided not to take a risk. Carroll has been highly influential in his past couple of games and his talent is really starting to show. Now all that the Liverpool fans want to see is a working relationship between him and Suarez on the pitch.
Probable Starting XI: Reina, Skrtel, Kyriagkos, Flanagan, Robinson, Spearing, Lucas, Meireles, Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll.
Birmingham saved a deadline day transfer on Nikola Zigic. The Serbian striker looked set to return to Spain but the transfer failed to come through and the Blues were set to retain his services for the rest of the season. However, they are without the services of the ex-Zaragoza man for this game. Birmingham’s biggest strength in this game would be their attacking options from out wide. Sebastian Larrson and Aleksandr Hleb are experienced players who know the English game well and they will be looking to exploit the relatively young and weak Liverpool full backs’ presence.
Apart from Zigic, Birmingham travel to Anfield without the services of Scott Dann, Obafemi Martins and James McFadden. The absence of these players will no doubt have a huge impact for the Blues as all of them are first string players. And it is not just this game against Liverpool that might squeeze their juices; playing against any team with a squad deprived of several first team players is not good for survival in the Premier League, especially when the season is heading towards a climax. On the bright side of things, Czech international Jiranek is back in defense for the Blues. This will surely add strength to their battered backline.
This means that Alex McLeish will have a big task on his hands in boosting the confidence and morale of his squad before going into the game at Anfield. Another win or two should secure Birmingham’s Premier League status for the following season and at this time, the mentality that needs to settle in outweighs individual performances on the pitch.
Probable Starting XI: Foster, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell, Carr, Hleb, Larrsson, Gardner, Ferguson, Bowyer, Jerome.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch out For:
The Uruguayan has enjoyed a successful debut season so far and defenders in the League yet to face him for the first time will have to read him and improvise their gameplay on the pitch as the match progresses. Suarez has notched up more assists than goals so far this season which means he is player who creates chances more than converting them. This makes him TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch out For.
It’s a Long Road Ahead
Suarez is yet to strike a chord with Andy Carroll on the pitch but both the players are working behind the scenes to make it happen. This season is coming to an end and hence next season will really yield the results of this blossoming relationship.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Biirmingham City
In their attempt to dethrone Manchester City from the fourth spot, Liverpool, unbeaten at home, will give their ‘all’ to beat The Blues. Birmingham won’t be strong enough away from home to spoil Liverpool’s campaign.
TheHardTackle Blast from the Past: