December 22, 2012; 17:30 GMT
Liverpool entertain Fulham this weekend in a busy festive period which will see the team playing 4 games in the space of 11 days. After suffering an embarrassing home defeat to Aston Villa, Liverpool will be looking to get back to winning ways against Fulham who currently lie in 13th spot, 2 points behind The Reds. Martin Jol’s Fulham side did the double over Liverpool last season, winning 1-0 on both occasions. Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that history does not repeat itself.
Liverpool enter a crucial period of the season which could see them in the race for one of the top 4 spots or fade away into mid table mediocrity once again. Liverpool are now 7 points behind Tottenham in 4th spot after a “self-inflicted” defeat at Anfield last weekend. The Reds face a relatively easy set of fixtures in the coming weeks and Rodgers will be hoping to take maximum points from these games. Rodgers has hinted at bolstering his attacking options in the January transfer window, but he needs to make sure his side is in a position where they can challenge for a Champions League spot.
Fulham have had some indifferent form in the Premier League this season under Martin Jol. They have failed to win their last 6 matches away from home and have only managed to keep one clean sheet. However, Fulham raise their game against the top teams and they have taken points off Chelsea and Arsenal away from home. The Cottagers boast some quality players like Berbatov and Rodallega who both have good scoring records against the Merseyside giants and could give Fulham fans hope of extending their winning run over Liverpool this season.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Brendan Rodgers admitted that he needs to give some of his players “a breather” who appeared to be fatigued mentally and physically. He singled out Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling as two players in need of a break and we may well see one or both in the subs bench this weekend.
Jose Enrique missed the last game due to a hamstring problem but he is expected to be available for the weekend. Martin Kelly remains a long term absentee but Fabio Borini is close to returning from injury.
Pepe Reina will be in goal for Liverpool and will be shielded by centre-back pairing Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. Glen Johnson has been in fine form for Liverpool this season and is expected to start at right back. Rodgers may choose not to risk Enrique for this game and could go with Downing instead who had a good game last week against his former club.
Lucas Leiva is still slowly coming to form and he will be expected to shield the centre backs who looked vulnerable on the counter attack. Lucas’ role is crucial to Rodgers’ system and he will be expected to break up play in midfield and swiftly launch the attack for the home team.
Joe Allen is likely to be given a rest for this game and Jordan Henderson is expected to take his place. Lucas is unlikely to last the full 90 minutes and we could see either Allen or Sahin coming off from the bench after the hour mark. Gerrard has been the main creative force from midfield this season and the Liverpool captain will once again shoulder the responsibility for creating attacking opportunities for his team. Henderson and Gerrard will be expected to make runs into the box and get into goal scoring positions.
The midfield battle will be key for Liverpool and the trio will be expected to dominate possession. Lucas will play as the primary ball winner while Henderson and Gerrard will try to press the opposition higher up the pitch. Henderson’s energy, in particular, would be a valuable asset for this game. The young midfielder has the engine to make late runs into the box as well as track back during counter attacks.
Raheem Sterling is set to sign a new 5 year contract with Liverpool and he will be looking to get on the score-sheet to celebrate his new deal. The 18 year old has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame this season and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the Jamaican born winger continues to develop into a top player for Liverpool. Suso has been on the sidelines for a few games now and could get a start this weekend. Liverpool lacked penetration last week and the inclusion of Suso could add some much needed creativity to the attack.
Suarez has had a barren run in recent weeks and will look to get on the scoresheet after being overtaken in the race for the Golden Boot by the likes of Michu, van Persie and Demba Ba. Suarez will once again play in the ‘false 9’ position and will be looking to drag the Fulham centre-backs out of position. Liverpool’s wingers and attacking midfielders will be looking to exploit the space and manufacture goal scoring opportunities for The Reds.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Downing; Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard; Suso, Suarez, Sterling.
Martin Jol has had a few injury problems this season and he will be without the services of midfielders, Brian Ruiz, Mahamadou Diarra and Simon Davies. Ruiz, in particular, will be a big miss for Fulham as his creativity could help unlock the Liverpool defence. The Costa Rican has already got 5 assists to his name and is one of the main creative outlets for Fulham. Steve Sidwell will miss this game due to suspension and will be another big miss for Fulham. The midfielder’s dynamism in the middle of the park would have helped Fulham regain possession and stifle Liverpool’s passing game.
Martin Jol is expected to field a 4-4-2 for this game with Schwarzer in goal. Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland are the first choice centre backs and will be flanked by Riether and Liverpool old boy John Arne Riise at right back and left back respectively. Riise has been in good form for Fulham and he will be expected to join in the attack down the left flank.
Jonathan Baird will continue in an unfamiliar defensive midfield position. Keiran Richardson could move to central midfield in Sidwell’s absence. The duo are likely to have a tough time against Liverpool’s midfield trio and Martin Jol will probably look to take a leaf out of Aston Villa’s book. He will set up his side to sit deep and hit Liverpool on the counter attack.
Liverpool academy product Alex Kacaniklic is expected to start on the left flank this game. Premier League veteran Damien Duff will start on the right flank. Both wingers have to be disciplined and will have to help out the defence. Fulham’s wingers will have to stop Liverpool’s attacking fullbacks from marauding forward as well as try and supply balls for their forwards to attack.
The key to Fulham’s fortunes will be Dimitar Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega. Berbatov will look to drop deep and link up midfield with attack. Hugo Rodallega will look to play off the shoulder of the Liverpool centre-backs. Berbatov has played more key passes than any other forward in the Premier League this season and he will be a perfect foil for Rodallega’s pace and strength. Liverpool have to be wary of their threat and look to cut off their supply from midfield.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reither, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Baird, Richardson, Kacaniklic; Rodallega, Berbatov
Players to Watch Out For
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
The Brazilian is a vital cog in Liverpool’s midfield and his presence will be key in the side. Since coming back from injury, Lucas has put in some good performances and is steadily finding his form. Liverpool’s strategy would be to ensure that Fulham’s forwards see as little of the ball as possible and Lucas will be instrumental in shielding the Liverpool defence. Liverpool’s No. 21 will also be expected to initiate attacks from the deep and his presence in the side will allow greater freedom for the likes of Gerrard to join in the attack. The tough tackling midfielder will help Liverpool to dominate possession in midfield and in the absence of Joe Allen his presence could make the difference for The Reds.
Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
Liverpool fans are not likely to forget Bulgarian’s stunning hattrick at Old Trafford in a hurry. Berbatov’s lazy elegance and skill on the ball make him a treat to watch for fans. Berbatov has a penchant for pulling off the unbelievable and he always plays his best against the top teams (something Arsenal fans will attest to). Berbatov will play as a floater and will try to unsettle the Liverpool defence. The Bulgarian is famous for his ability to hold up the ball and he will look to get the other attacking Fulham players involved. Berbatov can punish Liverpool if he gets space and time on the ball and Brendan Rodgers will be instructing his players not to allow him that luxury.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Fulham
Both Liverpool and Fulham find themselves languishing in the wrong half of the table due to some inconsistent displays throughout the season. It is difficult to predict which team will have a good day. Liverpool will once again be likely to dominate possession in midfield especially in the absence of Sidwell. Fulham have been leaking goals away from home and if Suarez regains his scoring touch then Jol’s men could be in for a tough day. The Reds will looking to avenge last week’s defeat at home and will be highly motivated. We predict a 2 – 0 victory for the home side.
Blast From The Past