Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three weeks of hell? Or has the Fixture God shown mercy?

Liverpool play seven matches in three weeks starting with Villa at Anfield on Saturday.  The thing is, all seven are winnable, even with the injuries we have sustained recently.  The 2-0-1 record, 7 points, and current third place standing on the table are flattering to deceive for the Villans.  To say they've been lucky would be the understatement of the season by far.  They were manhandled at Stoke in their first match, but somehow managed a 1-0 win. They needed a red card by Newcastle to get a 0-0 result at home in week two, and barely managed to hold on against Hull at Villa Park two weekends ago.  Karma has to catch up with them at some point and history says it could very well come Saturday.

Next up we host Ludogorets on Tuesday, our easiest Champions League fixture by far.  I can see Rodgers going with a 'weaker' side in this match, hopefully Suso will play a part.  I don't know if he'll go as far as starting Borini, but he could make the bench.  Then we go to Upton Park to take on the Hammers, where Liverpool has won 7 of the last 9 matches and Rodgers has never lost to Allardyce or West Ham.   The London club has the sixth most efficient defence, but sixth worst attacking efficiency, who knows how that could change when they face the equally volatile Hull City on Monday.

Three days later, Liverpool host Middlesborough in the League Cup.  We should definitely see an 'experimental' side here.  If Markovic hasn't broken his duck by then, this will be his best opportunity.  Liverpool have not lost to the Boro at Anfield since March 6, 1976, 38 years ago and before I was born.  The two have not met since 2009, when the then Premier League side beat Liverpool 2-0 at Riverside.  I remember the dismal affair, Nabil El Zhar started for us, Xabi scored an own goal, and Tuncay sealed it in the 63rd minute.  LFC dominated the match in every aspect, winning 9 corners to Boro's 2, having 16 shots, 7 on-target to the home side's 5 and 3 respectively, 84.7% to 65.6% passing, and 72% to 28% possession, but just couldn't score.  It was one of the matches looked back on as costing Liverpool the title that season and baffled many as the Reds had just beat Real Madrid 1-0 at the Bernabeu three days earlier.

One of the harder matches of the lot is Liverpool hosting Everton the Saturday following the Boro fixture.  I'm not really that worried as much as I probably should be when it comes to hosting the lesser Liverpool club.  They have not beaten us in four years, at Anfield in 19 years, and how suspect their defence has been this season, we should be able to get the goals needed for three points.  Any result less than a win will be unacceptable and detrimental to any chance of winning the League.

If a visit from the Blue side of Merseyside isn't the hardest fixture of this bunch, the trip to Basel four days later definitely is.  Kicking off October at the defending Swiss Super League Champions in our second CL fixture isn't the worst of scenarios, but even if our squad isn't as injury depleted as it is now, we will still have fatigued players.  That'll be six matches in 19 days, only Man City have the depth to maintain a high level of football during that kind of run.  The good news is, we've never lost to Basel, that bad news is, we've never beaten Basel and we've only ever played them twice.  The 'Rotblau' currently sit atop the SSL table, are unbeaten in 7 matches with 6 wins, and lead the league in goals scored with 18.  I still think we can get a win here, but will not be too aggrieved if we only manage a draw.  Wins at home are a must in CL group play and that should be enough to get us through to the elimination round.

Finally, we end the Shine on Harvest Moon tour with a visit from West Brom.  The Baggies have baffled us the past few years, a ship that seemed to be righted with our 4-1 dismantling of the West Midlands club, but a title costly 1-1 result at the Hawthorns last February rekindled the recent pain. Before winning at Anfield in two of the last three meetings, WBA hadn't won there since 1965.  Liverpool are 3-1-4 versus West Brom in their last 8 meetings in all comps, but the Baggies have the least efficient defence in the league by quite a distance.  We should be able to end this run with three points as long as we don't beat ourselves.

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