By Séamus Leonard
In stark contrast to the monotony of last weekend’s Merseyside derby, the days since have been filled with activity as first Alex Ferguson announced his decision to retire as manager of Manchester United at the end of the season and then Everton boss David Moyes was declared Fergie’s hand-picked successor.
The whole affair makes for strange times as both United and the Toffees prepare to bid farewell to their long-term supremos.
The 0-0 bore draw at Anfield last week leaves Everton five points clear of Liverpool with just two matches left in the English Premier League. While mathematically possible, the Reds have clearly given up the chase to overhaul their neighbors and revealed that captain Steven Gerrard and center-back Daniel Agger’s seasons are over after they underwent shoulder and back surgery respectively.
Jamie Carragher, whose Liverpool career will come to an end next weekend, will, barring injury, wear the skipper’s armband for his 736th and 737th appearances in the famous red shirt. It will be interesting to see who deputizes for Agger at the heart of the defense. Much has been made of Martin Skrtel’s omission from the starting XI in the past few months. However, the Slovakian international came on in the dying minutes of the derby, and manager Brendan Rodgers stated in his pre-match press conference that the the decision to reinstall Carragher had more to do with the need for the Scouser’s organizational skills as it did with Skrtel’s form. Skrtel may still leave in the summer, but Rodgers’ comments may signal that the 2011/12 Player of the Season’s time with the Reds is not necessarily at an end.
And in Gerrard’s absence, Jonjo Shelvey will be hoping he will get the opportunity to stake a claim for more action next season. The midfielder scored a scorcher in the U-21 side’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Monday, and Rodgers has ascribed Shelvey’s lack of game time to both the form of the starting players and the lack of midweek games since the Europa League exit to Zenit St. Petersburg.
The likes of Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing have played a lot of games during this campaign, and Rodgers could also opt to rest one of them, although he is unlikely to make wholesale changes as he seeks a positive end to what has been a difficult first season in charge.
Fulham’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on April 13 brought it to the magical 40-point mark, which usually ensures a club of Premier League survival. However, that point is the only one the Cottagers have picked up in the last six games and so, with matters extremely tight at the bottom of the table, they remain in some danger of going down despite their position in 12th spot.
That threat will evaporate should FA Cup finalists Wigan Athletic fail to beat Arsenal next Tuesday, but Fulham boss Martin Jol would certainly rather not wait any longer to put the matter to bed. The West Londoners enjoyed a league double over Liverpool last season, but the Merseysiders gained some revenge for those two defeats with a comfortable 4-0 victory at Anfield in December.
Fulham has mixed form on home territory this term, racking up seven wins, eight defeats and three just draws. But recent results suggest that Jol’s charges already have one eye on the summer break, and it may be difficult for the Dutchman to arrest the slide.
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 1000 EST.
Fulham v Liverpool
When: Sunday, May 12, 1000 EST/1500 GMT
Where: Craven Cottage, London
Previous Premier League match: Fulham 2-4 Reading, Liverpool 0-0 Everton
League Position 2012-13: Fulham 12th (40 points), Liverpool 7th (55 points)
Projected Fulham Starting 11
DEF: Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Richardson
MID: Duff, Enoh, Karagounis, Emanuelson
FW: Ruiz, Berbatov
Subs from: Etheridge, Manolev, Hughes, Frimpong, Banya, Riise, Baird, Rodallega, David, Petric, Frei, Na Banga, Kacaniklic
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Wisdom, Carragher, Skrtel, Jose Enrique
MID: Shelvey, Lucas, Henderson
FW: Downing, Sturridge, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Suso, Coates, Johnson, Assaidi, Coady, Borini, Morgan, Ibe
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard