By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool is in the heart of a must-win stretch, and with the recent decision by the Football Association, it may get harder.
Luis Suarez, for those living under a rock, was penalized for an alleged racist remark toward Manchester United captain Patrice Evra. The eight match ban may still be appealed, and until that process completes, Suarez will still be eligible for selection to the first team. No matter the outcome, the ongoing process has to be a difficult period for the players and looms over this match, in particular.
But there is football to be played. The show must go on.
Jay Spearing remains absent from the Liverpool squad when they head to the DW Stadium to face Wigan on Wednesday. This is due to his red card against Fulham, and the 23-year-old is serving the final match of a three-match ban. No other regular first-team player will be unavailable other than Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard, both on the shelf for long-term injuries. Gerrard is participating in training, but manager Kenny Dalglish noted recently that he is still not ready to be inserted in a first team match.
Liverpool is within touching distance of Chelsea in fourth place, much thanks to the Blues’ draw against Wigan last week. After the loss against Fulham, the Reds have defeated both QPR and Aston Villa, and hope to continue that strong form in the coming matches. After Wigan, the club plays Blackburn on Boxing Day and Newcastle before its big clash with Manchester City on January 3.
Other than last week, success has been tough to come by this season for the Latics. Despite earning eight points from the past five matches, the club has not been strong this season. In addition, it looks as if the relegation battle will be fierce, so Wigan could be in for a long season. However, due to Bolton’s recent win over Blackburn, the Latics could use a point against Liverpool, especially with such a low figure out of the gate. The home crowd may be a factor, but these two cities are less than 40 minutes apart, so the traveling Kop should be well-represented.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has not had as vocal of sack talk as the other managers that sit in the relegation zone, but he may want to steer his club to safety soon. He will need continued strong performances from Omani goalkeeper, Ali Al-Habsi. Regarding the field players, the lineup may not change a large amount from last week, mainly due to the club’s success against a strong Chelsea side. It would be interesting if Hugo Rodallega made the start in place of Republic of Ireland U-21 player, Conor Sammon. If not, expect the same group out there. The squad may not have a lot of name recognition, but Wigan can defend and cause headaches for the Liverpool attack.
The Liverpool back four has had a lot of success, and it would not be a surprise to see nothing changed by Dalglish. The midfield could potentially have Jonjo Shelvey make another appearance with would be huge for him, as he played impressively against Aston Villa. Having Shelvey line up next to Jordan Henderson, with Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez on the wings, could help out a formidable attack led by Craig Bellamy and Suarez.
These are the matches that Liverpool needs in order to obtain Champions League qualification, but with the Suarez ban looming, points may be even more difficult to come by.
Wigan v Liverpool
When: Tuesday, December 21, 2000 GMT / 1500 EST
Where: DW Stadium, Wigan
EPL: Liverpool T-5th (29 points), Wigan 18th (13 points)
Probable Wigan Starting XI:
GK: Al Habsi
DEF: Alcaraz, Caldwell, Stam, Figueroa
MID: McCarthy, Moses, Diame, Gomez, Jones
Subs from: Pollitt, Gohouri, Crusat, Watson, McArthur, DiSanto, Sammon
Probable Liverpool Starting XI:
DEF: Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique
MID: Kuyt, Shelvey, Henderson, Maxi
FW: Suarez, Bellamy
Subs from: Doni, Downing, Kelly, Carragher, Carroll, Coates, Aurélio, Wilson, Flanagan, Adam
Interact: What’s your final score predictions? Comment below.