By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool is 90 minutes away from a visit to Wembley Stadium for the League Cup final.
All the squad has to do is hold off Manchester City for 90 minutes and preserve the one goal aggregate lead. The club that survives the trip to Anfield on Wednesday will be facing Cardiff City, who shocked Crystal Palace in the second leg of the other semi-final to prevail on penalty kicks.
However, the most successful club in the competition’s history will need a sound match from a possibly shorthanded squad, as Jay Spearing is a question mark with an injured hamstring, which was sustained during the first leg. Kenny Dalglish will have to push on with the current squad – one that struggled mightily in a poor effort against Bolton.
With Dalglish’s warning to players after the match against the Wanderers, there is little doubt the players will be up for the challenge. However, there may be changes, as the midfield created little in the previous match, and the Steven Gerrard-Charlie Adam partnership looked forced. The back four also were responsible for a few lapses over the weekend, but it would be unlikely for lightning to strike twice, as the group of Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Martin Skrtel have been strong.
Up front, the squad will need to have an improved scoring touch. Craig Bellamy has been superb since his arrival during the summer, but the striker is unable to do it alone. As fewer matches are between Liverpool and the return of Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll is running out of time before he becomes a more permanent fixture on the bench. A good showing from him (if he is to feature), is necessary. Whoever starts up front, it may be a safe bet to think their chances could be limited. With the lead entering the home leg, it is not far-fetched to think Dalglish will play with a bit of caution and more defensive.
City, on the other hand, will be without Vincent Kompany. The Belgian defender is serving the final game of his four-match ban for his red card against Manchester United. Fellow Citizen Mario Balotelli may be on the verge of the same length ban, and if the club decides to forgo the appeal on his red card, which was received after he stamped Scott Parker during Manchester City’s win over Tottenham on Sunday.
Without those two key players, Roberto Mancini’s men may be a bit vulnerable. Stefan Savic will likely be in Kompany’s place, and the unproven defender has been shaky in the captain’s absence. In addition, the club’s attack could be hurt by Balotelli’s possible ban, but also have an ability to show an attacking combination of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and David Silva.
Both clubs are quite familiar with one another this season. This will be the fourth match, with each club sporting a win, as well as the one draw, which occurred on November 27.
Liverpool v Manchester City (Agg: LFC 1-0)
When: Friday, January 25, 1945 GMT / 1445 EST
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
First Leg: Manchester City 0-1 Liverpool
Probable Liverpool Starting XI:
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique
MID: Kuyt, Henderson, Gerrard, Downing
FW: Bellamy, Carroll
Subs from: Doni, Kelly, Coates, Carragher, Flanagan, Aurelio, Spearing, Shelvey, Adam, Maxi
Probable Manchester City Starting XI:
DEF: Richards, Savic, Lescott, Kolarov
MID: Milner, Johnson, Silva, Nasri
FW: Aguero, Dzeko
Subs from: Pantillimon, Bridge, Barry Razak, Clichy, Hargreaves, Zabaleta, de Jong
Interact: What’s your final score prediction? What’s your predicted starting eleven? Comment below.