By Christopher Boulay
While it is never good to look ahead to a bigger match, it may be something that Liverpool has no choice but to deal with, as there is no question the match of the season awaits this coming Saturday against Chelsea. But, the FA Cup still is one match away, and the Reds will need to deal with a difficult side in Fulham, as the Cottagers head to Anfield for the midweek clash.
Kenny Dalglish’s men are coming off of a dominant win against a Norwich City side that was completely overpowered by Luis Suarez. The Reds’ most dangerous goal threat showed exactly why he is named ‘El Pistolero,’ as he completely embarrassed the Norwich defense en route to a hat trick. However, it looks like Dalglish will go with a more conservative squad on Tuesday, as most of the first-team players could see a rest in order to be ready for the FA Cup this weekend.
With the likes of Suarez and Steven Gerrard getting a rest from their usual attacking duties, both Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy could play significant roles in this match. Also, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez may play roles in order to give the wings some needed speed and scoring touch.
It will be interesting to see if Raheem Sterling gets a nod in the midfield. Even if he is not selected in the starting 11, it would not be particularly surprising if he comes on later in the match to change the tempo in midfield.
The defense may see a bit of a shake-up, as well. If Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jose Enrique all get a rest, it would be likely that Sebastian Coates and Martin Kelly are given chances in the back. Furthermore, there may be no better time to give Fabio Aurelio a start, that is if he is still hanging around somewhere in the changing room.
For Fulham, this is a match it would love to have. With the club already defeating Liverpool earlier in the year, six points against the Reds could be a massive achievement. In addition, the Cottagers are only three points behind Liverpool in the table, and a win here could help improve their chances of chasing seventh place.
Martin Jol will be back in charge of his club after missing the 4-0 drubbing by Everton due to illness. Jol could have some valuable pieces out, as Andy Johnson is expected to miss the match due to injury. Stephen Kelly may also have to watch from the stands because of a wrist injury.
What Jol will have at his disposal is still extremely daunting, and could cause the Liverpool back line some significant problems. American international and former New England Revolution attacker Clint Dempsey is having an incredible season. Dempsey has 22 goals for Fulham this campaign, and his rising profile could get much larger if he manages to score the winner at Anfield. He could have help from both Moussa Dembele and Pavel Pogrebnyak, which help form a formidable attack for the West London club.
A couple of familiar faces also may play a role in the match for Fulham. John Arne Riise may be getting older, but the Norwegian Kop legend still is a formidable threat on goal, as well as a tough option on the wing. Also, Danny Murphy could get a call, especially if Jol decides someone in the midfield needs a rest.
The match may not mean as much as Saturday in the long run, but if the Reds are to seriously challenge Everton for seventh, the club needs to string some league wins together. Another impressive win could leave the players in a very positive mental position heading into Saturday.
Liverpool v Fulham
When: Tuesday, May 1st 1445 EST/ 1945 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Premier League Table: Liverpool 8th (49 points), Fulham 9th (46 points)
Last Premier League Match: Norwich 0-3 Liverpool, Everton 4-0 Fulham
Projected Fulham Starting 11:
DEF: Riise, Hangeland, Senderos, Hughes
MF: Duff, Diarra, Murphy, Dempsey
FW: Dembele, Pogrebnyak
Subs from: Stockdale, Baird, Kelly*, Kasami, Frei, Etuhu, Kacaniklic, Sa, Johnson*
Projected Liverpool Starting 11:
DEF: Kelly, Coates, Skrtel, Aurelio
MF: Kuyt, Spearing, Shelvey, Maxi
FW: Bellamy, Carroll*
Subs from: Doni, Enrique, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Wilson, Coady, Wisdom, Gerrard, Downing, Eccleston, Sterling, Kuyt, Suarez
(*) = Late Fitness Test
Interact: What’s your final score prediction? What’s your predicted starting eleven? Comment below.