Back in December I wrote a preview for this game but snow had other plans and so instead the game kicks off a month later than scheduled. Roy’s got the boot and been replaced with ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish, a man who has unconditional love and support from literally everyone associated with Liverpool. The enthuasiasm from the fans towards their club has really increased, and they’re playing better football too. Torres looks a different player, they’re getting more men forward and Meireles, Roy’s most successful signing, is now easily paying back every penny of his £10 million fee, a wondervolley in their last game against Wolves one of the best we’ll see all season (not as good as Dempsey’s against Stoke mind, be sure to remind everyone of that!). Oh, Gerrard’s coming back from suspension too.
It would then, on the face of it, seem like a torrid time to play Liverpool but we’re in a nice little run ourselves. Dembele has finally played after taking way longer than initially thought to recover from his injury and he breathed fresh life into out attacking play against Stoke. AJ is looking sharper and sharper with every game that comes, Dempsey’s on course to be our highest league scorer since we were promoted, Murphy’s controlling midfields for fun, our defence with the inspired idea of Baird at left back is looking just as assured as it was under Hodgson, even Stockdale is statistically the best goalie in the league. Our players are coming back into form after a dip and it all points towards a promising performance.
The horrible loss to West Ham on Boxing Day appears to have been the catalyst for some very impressive games. Since then we’ve played 6 games in league and cup, lost one, won 4 and scored 14 (slightly skewed by the Peterbrough game but a nice stat nevertheless). In amongst those games were three clean sheets, so for all our improved attacking play it has not come at the expense of an exposed defence which has been improved with the benching of Salcido and the promotion of Baird. This has suprised me, I like him as a player and would be quite comfortable seeing him at right back, centre half and midfield, but I never thought that outside of emergencies he would realistically play well over a series of games at left back so I think that over the past few weeks he is the player that comes out with the most credit (but as I say, we have alot of players in good form). Only City have conceded less away from home which bodes well for one of the toughest away games we’ll have had this season and for the final of this stat barrage all but two league losses have been single goal defeats. By 10 tonight Liverpool will know they’ve been in a game.
The win over Stoke was about as comfortable as you can get but unfortunately a couple of key players have picked up injuries. Etuhu who had been impressive in recent games will almost certainly miss tonights match. Fortunately we have the new signing of Sidwell to step in. He’s a player I’ve rated since his Reading days, and although his career has fallen off slightly since the move to Chelsea and subsequent move to Villa, I have no doubt that he is a professional, hard working player that will get back to top form here. I really am looking forward to seeing how he’ll do after a promising half an hour on Saturday. Hughes too, one half of the immovable object that is the H&H partnership, is likely to miss the game after picking up a knock. Halliche came on for him on Saturday but personally I’d be much more comfortable seeing Baird move to centre back and Salcido take over his position at left back. It’s not a great solution since isntead of moving one part of the defence we’re moving two, but Halliche, as of yet, doesn’t look entirely comfortable in English football in the few minutes that he has played. Salcido hasn’t either to be fair, but he played well in his first few games before his injury and he has much better pedigree than Halliche. Other than those two changes though, I’d expect Fulham to put out the same team.
Back when I wrote that preview I was concerned at how even 10th place seemed to be getting further and further as the league settled, but now this run of form has again given us genuine top ten hopes. Back then, 10th place was 6 points away, and after the game on saturday we were the same distance from Europe as we were from the relegation zone! Wigan’s defeat to Aston Villa today means we’re now 4 points ahead with a game in hand. A result then would be massive. Even a draw would mean that we keep our momentum going and keep pressure on the teams above and below us. A win would of course be better though and there’s no reason to go to Liverpool and limit our ambitions to a point. They have been strong at home this season but this Liverpool team are still not yet playing to their potential and I doubt that just a couple of weeks under Dalglish will have fixed all their confidence issues. If we play like Blackpool and Wolves, be brave and put in a professional performance to frustrate the home team and the fans that back them then we could be looking at a victorious Mark Hughes in the post match press conference. The most important thing to be wary of is their vastly improved counter attack, since Torres is not getting so isolated as he was before they showed at Wolves that on the counter they will make extra men they throw forward count. However for a team as disciplined and professional as ours shouldn’t be particuarly worried about being caught cold, so if I was going to predict a result (and I am) I’d reckon it’ll be a third straight 0-0 at Anfield.
A quick note on the expected signing of Kakuta too. An exceptionally talented young player, this is a decent deal for us and I can’t really see any drawbacks. He won’t take a place in our 25 man squad or demand a large cost, and we have a quick, tricky midfielder to offer us something we don’t really have at the moment. A good signing. It indicates that we won’t sign Shaun Wright-Philips which is a shame because it means in the summer we’ll have to look for a Kakuta replacement, but in the short term I’m pleased.