By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool heads into the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday for the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, which will pit the Reds against an opponent they are quite familiar with: Manchester City.
The club enters the match knowing the blue side of Manchester will be without some of its key players. With scoring away from home so important in cup matches, Liverpool needs to start early.
City will be without Vincent Kompany for the clash, he is serving a four-match ban for a tackle on Nani during last weekend’s FA Cup match against Manchester United. The Citizens lost the match 3-2, but losing their captain was a bigger blow to the side — he won’t be available for either leg of the semi-final. To make matters worse for the club, it is still unknown whether forwards Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Edin Dzeko will be fit for the match.
The club is already without both Yaya and Kolo Toure, as the two are currently participating in the African Cup of Nations. The losses have not given Roberto Mancini a lack of headaches building up to this match. It will be intriguing how City responds. Despite Mancini’s pleas that the tournament is “not important,” it is likely that the club isn’t looking to crash out of one tournament and have a door close on another one with a match still to play.
With a potentially paper-thin side on the blue side of the pitch, Liverpool needs to make an early impact if it is to come away with a result and advance to the final.
However, with a potential lack of firepower itself, the club may need to have a big game from Andy Carroll, if he is named in the starting lineup. He scored a goal off of the bench in Friday’s win over Oldham in the FA Cup, and the Reds will hope he has a strong showing. Craig Bellamy is also in the running to get a start up front, and it would be interesting to see if Kenny Dalglish would put both of them in the lineup.
Steven Gerrard looks likely to start as well, which could answer some questions in the center of midfield. There has not been a defined partnership in the middle of the pitch since Lucas went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Dalglish pledged to have his favored back four return to the lineup after a change against Oldham. Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique will hope to redeem themselves after the last match against City, which ended in a 3-0 loss.
While the defense may have learned from the last match against the Citizens, the real issue has been the lack of attacking threat. With Luis Suarez in the middle of his suspension, it needs to come from somewhere. Carroll is on the clock, and he, like the rest of the squad, needs to be informed that a goalless draw may not be enough to push the Reds through to Wembley.
For those interested what is happening on the other side of the tournament, Crystal Palace currently leads Cardiff City 1-0 after the first leg. The two meet again on January 24.
Liverpool hosts City in the second leg on January 25.
Manchester City v Liverpool
When: Friday, January 11, 1945 GMT / 1445 EST
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Last League Cup Match: Manchester City: 1-0 v Arsenal, Liverpool 2-0 v Chelsea
Probable Manchester City Starting XI:
DEF: Richards, Savic, Lescott, Kolarov
MID: Milner, Johnson, Hargreaves, de Jong, Nasri,
Subs from: Pantillimon, Bridge, Razak, Clichy, Zabaleta, Balotelli, Dzeko, Silva
Probable Liverpool Starting XI:
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique
MID: Downing, Gerrard, Adam, Maxi
FW: Kuyt, Carroll
Subs from: Doni, Kelly, Coates, Carragher, Flanagan, Aurelio, Henderson, Spearing, Shelvey, Adam, Bellamy
Interact: What’s your final score prediction? What’s your predicted starting eleven? Comment below.