By Séamus Leonard
Apart from giving us the most recognizable pair of eyebrows in football, former Northern Ireland international Ian Dowie left his mark on the beautiful game in another fashion by inventing the word “bouncebackability”. Its genius is in its simplicity.
Not all players who go on to become pundits are as successful, linguistically speaking. Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp is one of the main proponents of using the word “unplayable”. Unfortunately for Redknapp, whose ability to analyze is almost as underwhelming as his career on Merseyside was, he uses the word in completely the wrong context. The term unplayable should refer to surfaces. Jamie seems to think that people can be unplayable. They can’t, unless there was a plan to stage a game on someone’s body.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Fulham’s visit to Anfield offers Liverpool the chance to rebound from last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat away at Arsenal. There is no shame in losing to the Gunners, who are enjoying an excellent season to date, but it is the manner of the loss that hurt most. Yet again, Liverpool’s midfield played second fiddle to an opponent’s. And the deadly duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge looked average up front. That said, the Reds had enough chances late on to – at the very least – sneak a draw. For as good as Arsenal was going forward, Arsene Wenger’s side still looks decidedly dodgy at the back.
But any season is going to include setbacks, and it is important that these results can be looked back on as blips rather than as the beginning of slumps. Liverpool has been here before this campaign. The 1-0 reverse to Southampton prompted soul-searching in manager Brendan Rodgers’ camp, but the Reds responded by taking 10 points from the next 12 with wins over Sunderland, Crystal Palace and West Brom, as well as a draw away to Newcastle.
Liverpool’s plight at The Emirates was not helped by the late withdrawal of Glen Johnson after the right-back suffered a freak illness. The England international will be fit for Saturday’s game, and it is hoped that left-back Jose Enrique will also be available for selection after his knee problems. Playmaker Philippe Coutinho was introduced as a half-time substitute last weekend, but the Brazilian looked off the pace after six weeks on the sidelines following shoulder surgery. You would expect that the 21-year-old will be that bit sharper after a week of full training under his belt.
Coutinho’s return poses a problem for Rodgers. Ideally, the Liverpool boss would like to stick with the 3-5-2 system he has favored in recent times, as this would allow him to position Coutinho in a central role just behind the SAS combination in attack. However, Rodgers abandoned the 3-5-2 at half-time at The Emirates in order to go back to the 4-3-3 formation he is more renowned for. That decision was in part due to Arsenal’s ability to expose space down the flanks. Fulham is unlikely to be as significant an attacking threat, so the Reds’ supremo may opt to give the 3-5-2 another chance. That would likely mean that one of the midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson would have to drop to the bench. Gerrard gave as a poor a performance as you are likely to see from him last Saturday, but it seems anathema to Rodgers to rest and/or replace his skipper. So Henderson may be the odd man out, though he would almost certainly come on around the hour mark to add his insatiable work rate to the mix.
There is also the possibility of change in defense. Vice-captain Daniel Agger has been warming the bench recently, and he will no doubt feel that he deserves a chance to stake his claim in the wake of the Arsenal disappointment. Kolo Toure has been a revelation since he came to the club on a free transfer from Manchester City during the summer. Unfortunately for the Ivorian, he had arguably his worst game in a Liverpool shirt against his former side and he may suffer the consequences, likely finding a spot on the bench.
Fulham make the trip north on the back of a dismal 3-1 defeat to Manchester United at Craven Cottage last Saturday. It was a surreal game, as the Londoners actually performed well apart from a 15-minute period in the first half when they fell to pieces and allowed the Red Devils to build up an unassailable lead. The Cottagers fought back after the break, however, and if they bring that level of performance to Anfield they will prove a difficult nut to crack.
The pressure has been building on manager Martin Jol after a shaky start to the season, and the visitors will be motivated by the fact that a loss on Merseyside, coupled with other results, could see them slip into the relegation zone. They could do with some “bouncebackability” themselves.
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 NBC Sports Live Extra, with coverage starting at 1000 EST.
Liverpool v Fulham
When: Saturday, November 9, 1000 EST/1500 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Fulham 1-3 Manchester United
League Position 2013-14: Liverpool 3rd (20th points), Fulham 16th (10 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Skrtel, Agger, Sakho
MID: Johnson, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, Cissokho
FW: Suarez, Sturridge
Subs from: Jones, Toure, Flanagan, Enrique, Kelly, Llori, Allen, Luis Alberto, Sterling, Ibe, Moses
Projected Fulham Starting 11
DEF: Hughes, Senderos, Amorebieta, Richardson
MID: Kasami, Sidwell, Parker, Kacaniklic
FW: Berbatov, Bent
Subs from: Stockdale, Etheridge, Riise, Zverotic, Hangeland, Dejagah, Ruiz, Taarabt, Boateng, Banya, Karagounis
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard