By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool travels to Field Mill on Sunday to take on Conference National side Mansfield Town in the FA Cup third round proper. While the Reds are set to field a weakened side, Mansfield will aim for what would arguably be the biggest upset in the Nottinghamshire club’s existence.Manager Brendan Rodgers plans to rest captain Steven Gerrard for the match, which would be one of a potentially large group of players set to sit this match out. Forward Luis Suarez is another one of the big names not expected to be in the starting lineup, which could set up an opportunity for midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to reprise his role up front, which he did well in a win against West Ham United.
If this is the case, Shelvey will likely not need to be the talisman for all 90 minutes of the fixture, as newly signed forward Daniel Sturridge is likely to see time at some point.
“This is one where I’m looking to utilise the squad,” Rodgers told The Guardian. “This is the nature of it coming on the back of four very tough games but I’ll pick a group to win. That’s the key. I am confident in the group and I would never risk the tie because this is a competition we want to do well in.”
The two clubs are far apart in the English pyramid. Liverpool occupies the eighth spot in the Premier League, while Mansfield has the ninth spot in the Conference National, four divisions below the Reds.
Despite the significant underdog status of the non-league side, playing at home may prove to be a big help, even if the task of defeating such a successful team seems too great for manager Paul Cox’s club. The opportunity of playing such a larger side doesn’t come often for a squad at that level, and many members of the club relish the opportunity.
Mansfield winger Louis Briscoe looks forward to the match, and in an interview with the club’s website, he explained that there isn’t any pressure on the Stags.
“Anything that we do well against Liverpool will be a bonus,” Briscoe told the website. “There’s virtually no pressure at all as we’re playing against one of the best, and one of the biggest, teams in the world.”
“It’s a chance of a lifetime so you have to grab it with both hands,” He continued, “We have to go out and enjoy it, being part of an amazing occasion.”
Mansfield will need to be at its best, even if Liverpool chooses to use what is essentially a B squad. With the transfer window open, many of the players on the fringes of the first team will want to ensure Rodgers knows that he can count on them in future fixtures.
The club recently lost Jose Enrique for six weeks to a hamstring injury, so Andre Wisdom may get another opportunity to get on the squad sheet. There also may be a spot for fringe players such as defenders Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates and midfielder Nuri Sahin.
Stags arrive from long FA Cup journey
While Liverpool features in the first match of its FA Cup journey, the Stags are already seasoned veterans. The club’s previous fixture was in the second round proper of the tournament against fellow non-league side Lincoln City. This ended in a 3-3 draw, which forced a replay on December 12. The replay was televised around the world, giving the club a bit of exposure leading up to this tie. Mansfield edged out the Imps for a 2-1 victory.
This wasn’t the only difficult match for Mansfield, as the previous round’s opponent forced a replay, as well. Slough Town, a member of the Southern Football League Central, on the eighth tier of the English pyramid, nearly managed to give the Stags all they could handle. The initial fixture ended in a goalless draw before a 1-1 draw in the replay. Mansfield managed to sneak past its opponents 4-1 on penalties.
Match status remains in limbo, club to honor Hillsborough 96
There is a possibility that Sunday’s fixture between the two sides will be unable to go forward, due to pitch conditions at Field Mill, according to the Liverpool Echo. The Stags postponed their fixture against Grimsby Town last weekend, and the pitch may still be unplayable.
As long as the game is given the green light by officials, there is a special event planned by the home club. The club announced on its website that 96 seats in the segregation section of the ground will remain unused, each honoring those fallen Liverpool supporters during the Hillsborough Disaster.
“We wanted to do something in light of what has happened this year in terms of Hillsborough and as it’s been so long since the two sides met,” Paul Broughton, operations director for Mansfield Town, told the club website.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on Fox Soccer, with coverage starting at 1030 am EST.
Mansfield Town v Liverpool
When: Sunday, January 6, 1100 EST/1600 GMT
Where: Field Mill, Mansfield
Previous FA Cup match: Liverpool: None, Mansfield Town 2-1 Lincoln City
League Position 2011-12: Liverpool 8th in the Premier League (31 points), Mansfield Town 9th in the Conference National (35 points)
Projected Mansfield Town Starting 11
DEF: Thompson, Dempster, Meikle, Green
MID: Briscoe, Howell, Clements, Beevers
FW: Geohaghon, Hutchinson
Subs from: Redmond, Sutton, Rhead, Stevenson, Speight, Murray, Daniel
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Coates, Carragher, Wisdom
MID: Henderson, Allen, Sahin
FW: Sterling, Shelvey Suso
Subs from: Reina, Gulacsi, Flanagan, Downing, Agger, Skrtel, Robinson, Lucas, Morgan, Shelvey, Yesil, Suarez, Sturridge
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.