By Christopher Boulay
There are approximately 90 minutes separating Liverpool from the Europa League. Despite a difficult fixture at Tynecastle, the Reds were able to take a 1-0 lead from an own goal from Andy Webster, giving the side a marked advantage heading back to familiar ground on Thursday.
Whether or not the 2-2 draw against Manchester City can be called a “success” or not, it further showed that the club has the wherewithal to compete against the most imposing competition. Additionally, long stretches of brilliance from the players during the match may put many supporters’ minds at ease. In order to come out of the second leg of the Europa League play-off unscathed, Liverpool would be best served to continue its strong attacking form from the weekend battle against the league champions instead of reverting to the rougher, unfinished-type play during the first leg.
No disrespect to Hearts, a club that has played well to start the Scottish Premier League season, as well as one that did not lay down in the first leg, but heading into Anfield looking for a result could be a big ask. This Liverpool side looks to have its collective tail up, and many players still are fighting for a regular spot in manager Brendan Rodgers’ rotation. Unless the Reds revert to the form in the match against West Bromwich Albion, Hearts may need to have one of its strongest days in years.
The situation may further improve for Liverpool, as Nuri Sahin may make his debut for the club after signing on loan from Real Madrid. This could give him some time to gel with the rest of the squad building up to the important tie against Arsenal on Sunday. Sahin’s signing looks to be just in time, as Lucas Leiva could be out for an extensive period of time due to his injury during the match against City.
Andy Carroll may get the start upfront, giving Luis Suarez a break for the match. Carroll was intended to start against Hearts last week, but was unable to due to injury. Creating a familiarity with Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini could help his confidence level in front of goal, if the club does plan to hold onto him.
Getting to Europa League will be another significant confidence booster for the club, as well as the supporters. However, a failure to do so will not only be a catastrophic failure, but it will be the first, real negative mark on Brendan Rodgers’ short tenure as manager of the club.
However, there’s still 90 minutes to be played, at the very least, and Liverpool are one nil up.
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: Robinson, Carragher, Coates, Flanagan
MID: Shelvey, Sahin, Allen
FW: Borini, Carroll, Sterling
Subs from: Jones, Agger, Skrtel, Kelly, Enrique, Adam, Spearing, Gerrard, Downing, Henderson, Sterling, Suarez, Morgan
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.