By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool’s goal of reaching the Europa League group stage is only two legs away. The club travels north of the border to Tynecastle for the first leg of the play-off round against Heart of Midlothian. The Edinburgh-based side may cause problems for the slow-starting Reds, but may be without one of its most important players.
Hearts’ goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald may not be available for the first leg, as he is awaiting the birth of his child. MacDonald’s fiancee is overdue for the birth, which makes depending on his availability to play difficult. This is a potential second blow to the Hearts’ goalkeeping situation, as understudy Mark Ridgers picked up an injury while on international duty. If MacDonald is not able to go, veteran and former Finnish international, Peter Enckelman will get the start in between the sticks. The 35-year-old was recently given special permission by UEFA to take part in the squad so soon after his signing.
One player that UEFA will not allow to play is new Liverpool signing Oussama Assaidi, as he is cup-tied until the group stage. The reason for this is due to the Moroccan appearing for his former club, Heerenveen, earlier in the group stage qualifying. Despite the blow, Liverpool will need to look to others to help give the club an advantage after 90 minutes.
Liverpool will also likely be without Jose Enrique for the clash. The wing-back sent out a tweet on Tuesday explaining that he will “try to be ready for Sunday [v Manchester City].” Enrique missed the 3-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion after he picked up an injury in training.
While the losses may hurt, the squad will likely aim to make a splash during the first leg, especially in the wake of the unexpectedly poor performance against the Baggies. While the defense will likely be thinner than manager Brendan Rodgers would prefer, a strong attack could take advantage of the Jam Tarts’ weakened goalkeeping situation and young back line.
Furthermore, Liverpool will be looking to build some momentum going into the Premier League match-up with City on Sunday, as the club will need to be at its best to get a result against the defending champions. With some concerned about Liverpool’s lack of scoring touch in the match against West Brom, a clinical performance would be welcome.
While Hearts is not the strongest club in Scotland, the side has started the season off well. In the short, three-match season so far, Hearts sits in second place with five points. A recent draw with Inverness CT may have been thought of as a failure, as the club blew a two-goal lead, only to salvage one point. However, a win to open the campaign v St. Johnstone, coupled with a draw against city rivals Hibernian, could help some supporters get increasingly optimistic about the club’s prospects this season.
The match will be the first time Liverpool has ventured to Scotland since last season, when the Reds lost 1-0 to Rangers at Ibrox.
For American viewers, the match will be televised on FoxSoccer.
Heart of Midlothian v Liverpool
When: Thursday, August 23, 1445 EST/1945 GMT
Where: Tynecastle, Edinburgh, Scotland
Projected Hearts Starting 11
DEF: Paterson, Zaliukas, Webster, McHattie
MID: R. McGowan, Barr, Robinson, Templeton
FW: Sutton, Novikovas
Subs from: Enckelman, Grainger, Taouil. D. McGowan, Prychynenko, Holt, Walker, G. Smith, Carrick
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Kelly, Agger, Carragher, Flanagan
MID: Lucas, Adam, Allen
FW: Borini, Carroll, Downing
Subs from: Jones, Coates, Skrtel, Robinson, Spearing, Shelvey, Henderson, Sterling
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.