Madejski Stadium, Reading
13th March, 2013; 15:00 GMT
This weekend, we witness an encounter between two teams whose fates this season seem more or less sealed. Liverpool FC travel to the Madejski stadium in a bid to boost their chances of overtaking Everton on the points table albeit a Champions League spot seems a bit of a stretch goal for the team from Merseyside.
While the Reds are showing signs of improvement in team chemistry on and off the pitch, bringing in consistency to their game is taking more time than one would imagine. With four wins out of six, surely Liverpool will be looking to finish their season on a high, especially considering they have Chelsea and Everton lined up ahead in the fixture list. A win against Reading will take them ahead of their local neighbours/rivals based on goal difference. This is when you will see praying faces and hopeful looks amongst the Liverpool fans.
Reading, after showing much promise at the start of the season have slumped terribly en route and now see themselves at the bottom of the table. The arrival of Nigel Adkins should be inspiring but it might have come a tad late for the sake of the team. The Royals have lost all matches since the beginning of February and to make things worse, have shown the most poor defence during this period, gifting 17 goals to their opponents while scoring just five themselves.
A win against Liverpool is much needed in order to ensure survival. With QPR facing Everton the same Saturday afternoon and Manchester City hosting Wigan four days later at the Etihad, Reading will be hoping for some favours from the favourites.
Team News & Tactical Brief
To add to Nigel Adkins’ rough start as Reading manager with the away loss against Arsenal and Southampton, midfielders Jimmy Kebe and Hope Akpan will miss the encounter against Liverpool due to groin & ankle injuries respectively.
When Southampton made their return to top flight at the start of the season, they presented themselves as an exciting team to watch. The initial loss against Manchester United brought out several positives from their gameplay. And by the looks of it, Adkins is trying to implement the same philosophy at his new club. With the emphasis now placed around passing the ball around more, Reading are looking to turn into a side which enjoys more possession while making sure they take up any and every opportunity of a counter attack.
Playing at home this time around, Reading’s philosophy would be to keep the ball as much as possible and frustrate Liverpool with the hope to capitalize on any mistakes the Reds would commit. This would appear to be a safe way to tackle a club like Liverpool considering the brand of football they are looking to bring to the table. However, the onus would then lie upon the attackers i.e. McAnuff and Le Fondre to team up and deliver. Le Fondre has scored 12 goals since arriving at Reading in winter and the manager will be relying on him to put one or two past Reina’s gloves.
When it comes to defence, there is just one man Reading need to be wary of. If Mariappa and Morrison have read on how James Collins planned to keep Luis Suarez at bay in Liverpool’s last week’s encounter against West Ham, then they would know that maintaining tight spaces high up the pitch will work to keep the Uruguayan out of harm’s way. How far will they succeed in doing so, is something we need to wait and watch.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-1-4-1): Federici; Gunter, Mariappa, Morrison, Kelly; Leigertwood; Robson-Kanu, Guthrie, Karacan, McAnuff; Le Fondre
Thankfully for Brendan Rodgers, the injury list isn’t piling up at this stage of the campaign. Liverpool will travel to the Madejski continued without the services of Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly. The young Raheem Sterling will miss the game as he continues to nurse a thigh injury. Stewart Downing, who limped off against West Ham last week, is set to be fit and in contention for a starting spot.
Liverpool have been working hard to bring in consistency to their game. But everytime they learn from a mistake, it looks like they go and commit a new one. With just six games left on the calendar, Rodgers will be look to put out a team that will dominate right from the start and take a step ahead in the game, especially away from home. Expect a flurry of Liverpool attacks courtesy Coutinho, Suarez and Downing as the midfield trio of Gerrard, Lucas and Henderson look to open up gaps in Reading’s defence.
The only thing Liverpool need to be careful of is the working of the central pairing – Carragher & Agger. The former has done well to put in everything he has into the final days of his Liverpool career but this doesn’t mean he is going through a short phase of invincibility. A touch of pace and trickery could easily displace Carragher. Reading don’t even have to actively look to go past him. Drawing him into a foul around the box will earn them set pieces through which they could cause damage.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson; Downing, Coutinho, Suarez
- This is only the 10th meeting between the sides in all competitions. Liverpool lead by six wins to two.
- The Royals have conceded the first goal on 20 occasions this season – more than any other team.
- Over half (56%) of Reading’s goals in Premier League have come in the final 30 minutes of matches this season.
- Steven Gerrard has played more accurate long balls per game (8.6) than any other top-flight player this season.
- Hal Robson-Kanu is the only Reading player to have scored in their last six league matches (Nathan Baker scored an own goal for them v Aston Villa).
Stats Courtesy BBC Sport
Player to Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
You can’t keep a player like Luis Suarez quiet for a long time. After being denied a goal against the Hammers last week, Liverpool’s No.7 will definitely fire on all systems to get the better of Reading. Coutinho’s arrival has sparked an eye-catching partnership between the South American duo; expect more of the same against the Royals this Saturday.
Here’s a fun stat – Suarez (12) has scored just one away goal fewer in the league this season than the whole of the Reading squad.
Reading 0 – 2 Liverpool
Liverpool will have to be really off their game this Saturday in order to lose against Reading and Rodgers will have cleared the air in the dressing room immediately after the draw against West Ham. Expect a Liverpool comeback, and a strong one at that.