Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday February 15 2013
After a positive run of performances and results which briefly heightened expectations, Liverpool are now firmly back to being regarded as transitional underachievers.
A run of five games without a win looks to have caused irreparable damage on the dual aspirations of a fourth placed finish and Europa League glory. In many ways the past week has encompassed the season as a whole with good performances thwarted by missed chances and individual mistakes.
The back-to-back 2-0 defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Zenit Saint Petersburg could easily have been wins but, coupled with the recent FA Cup shock at Oldham Athletic, many of the Kop faithful are beginning to voice frustration and concern.
Brendan Rodgers and his players will therefore be keen to get things back on the right track when the 40-year-old`s former side Swansea City visit Anfield on Sunday afternoon but that will be no easy task.
The Swans are enjoying an impressive season and currently sit 7th in the Premier League standings - two places and one point better off than Liverpool. They also have a League Cup final to look forward to; a competition in which they defeated the Reds at Anfield earlier this season.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday: "We arrived into the last couple of games on the back of two outstanding performances - away at Arsenal and Manchester City.
"Going into the game against West Brom we were very confident, didn't take our chances and got punished late on in the game; likewise last night.
"It's not a tactical or technical issue, it's not physical - it's one where more maturity in our performances can give us the results that we need. That's something that we need to improve, and will do."
Thankfully after two games littered with missed chances, £12m January signing Daniel Sturridge is likely to be available again following injury and European ineligibility. Fellow new boy Philippe Coutinho is also in-line for a full debut after missing Thursday's match against Zenit following earlier involvement in the Europa League with previous club Inter Milan. Danish centre-back Daniel Agger is likely to return to the side, despite his individual errors against West Brom, meaning one of either Jamie Carragher or Martin Skrtel will make way from the side who played in Russia. Others likely to make way from that starting eleven are Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling which will allow both Sturridge and midfield enforcer Lucas Leiva to start. Stewart Downing is another whose place could be threatened, especially if Rodgers chooses to fully blood Coutinho after the Brazilian's brief substitute appearance in the last league fixture. Defender Martin Kelly, who recently signed a new long-term contract at the club, is continuing his recovery from September's knee surgery and remains on course to play again this season.
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Suarez, Sturridge.
The 23-year-old made an immediate impact following his arrival from Chelsea last month by scoring on debut against Mansfield Town in the FA Cup. The strike was followed by goals in both of his first two league games, against Manchester United and Norwich City, which meant Sturridge became the first Liverpool player since Ray Kennedy in 1974 to score in each of his first three appearances for the club. Sturridge's instant impact has clearly been one of the bright points for Liverpool in an otherwise largely forgettable season to date. Given his talent and age there is plenty of hope and expectation that the pacy former Manchester City man will become a mainstay of the Reds attack for many years to come.
Key defender Chico Flores will be missing with ankle ligament damage which seems almost certain to rule him out of next Sunday's Wembley clash with Bradford. The injury marred an impressive 4-1 win over Queens Park Rangers last weekend in which top-scorer Michu was on target twice to take his tally to 15 Premier League goals for the season. Flores is likely to be replaced by former Arsenal youngster Kyle Bartley although club captain Garry Monk provides a more experienced option for Swans chief Laudrup. Other selection dilemmas faced but the Danish legend are at right-back where both Angel Rangel and Dwight Tiendalli have seen significant recent game time. Support for Michu up front also tends to alternate with Pablo Hernandez, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Jonathan de Guzman all vying for places in the starting eleven. Midfielder Leon Britton, who has represented the club in all four divisions, is set to return from a brief layoff after a scan showed no ligament damage in the ankle problem suffered a fortnight ago against West Ham United. Welsh international left-back Neil Taylor remains hopeful of returning from a broken ankle sustained in September before the end of the season.
Vorm, Rangel, Williams, Bartley, Davies, Britton, Ki, De Guzman, Pablo, Dyer, Michu.
Michu's performances since joining Swansea City in the summer have been nothing short of immense. The striker's league tally of 15 goals, part of an overall return of 18 in 32 appearances, puts him third in the Premier League scoring charts behind established stars Robin van Persie (19) and Luis Suarez (17). The unheralded Spaniard, who was recently tied down to an improved contract at the Liberty amid interest from elsewhere, cost just £2m from Rayo Vellecano. In addition to his goals, Michu's technical ability, strength and awareness of others has resulted in a number of assists. His record is made all the more impressive given the ex-Celta Vigo player has been utilised in a midfield role at times.
• The two sides have met on 31 occasions in total with Liverpool recording 15 wins to Swansea's 9 (7 draws). The Reds have scored 71 goals overall compared to 33 by the Swans.
• Recent results favour the Welsh side however and Liverpool have not scored against Swansea since they were promoted to the Barclays Premier League last season; firing blanks in all three previous league meetings (D2 L1).
• Another reason for possible Swansea optimism is the fact that Liverpool are still yet to enjoy a victory over a side in the top half of the division this season (D7 L7).
• Should the visitors take the lead then the Reds face an uphill task as Swansea have dropped a league low two points from leading positions this season; winning nine of the 10 games they have taken the lead in.
• Liverpool will no doubt have enough attempts at scoring however and they recently became the first team in Europe's top five leagues to hit 500 shots this season (503).
Experienced South Yorkshire based official Howard Webb is the man appointed to take charge of this contest. The 41-year-old has taken charge of 29 games to date this season, showing 101 yellow and three red cards in the process. Liverpool have had a pretty torrid time in recent games under his control; a draw against Chelsea and loses to Manchester United, Stoke City and Arsenal. Swansea have also failed to taste success with Webb in the middle this season having played out a draw with Arsenal and a surprise home defeat by Norwich City. Webb was awarded an MBE for services to football in 2011.
How quickly fortunes can change. This time a fortnight ago Liverpool's immediate future looked bright with the club basking in the glow of consecutive 5-0, 3-0 and 4-0 home wins. Even seven days ago the damage caused by the shock FA Cup exit to League One side Oldham Athletic seemed to be subsiding after exciting displays on the road against the might of Arsenal and Manchester City. Now however, following successive 2-0 defeats, Liverpool's season is in danger of ending prematurely with nothing more than an improvement on last season's 8th placed league finish to play for. For Rodgers, his staff, the players and of course the supporters, who are growing increasingly tired of force dawns, the next two fixtures are must win games. Unfortunately, in-form Swansea are likely to make the first part of that task incredibly difficult and the Reds may need a helping hand from any distraction caused by next weekend's cup final.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 1-1 draw
Liverpool - Europa League v Zenit Saint Petersburg at Anfield on Thursday 21st February 2013, kick off 8.05pm.
West Bromwich Albion - League Cup Final v Bradford City at Wembley on Sunday 24th February 2013, kick off 4.00pm.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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Date:Friday February 15 2013
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