Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Thursday February 28 2013
Liverpool return to action on Saturday after more than a week spent mulling over a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at prolonging their participation in cup competitions this season.
Defeat on aggregate in the Europa League to Zenit Saint Petersburg focuses even more attention onto the club's faltering league campaign which, with 11 games to play, sees the Reds sitting exactly where they finished the previous campaign; 8th.
Nobody will need reminding that such a position last season resulted in the sacking of manager Kenny Dalglish despite the iconic Scotsman also reaching two cup finals and winning one.
On a positive note, Brendan Rodgers' side did enjoy an emphatic 5-0 victory over Swansea City in their last league fixture but the last six Premier League results clearly showcase Liverpool's inconsistency; W2 D2 L2.
Wigan Athletic meanwhile are enduring their annual battle for survival but will be boosted by last weekend's 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Reading. The result allowed the Latics to climb back out of the relegation zone even though it was only their second win in 14 league outings.
Liverpool boss Rodgers speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday: "We're going into the final run-in now and we really want to push on in these last 11 games.
"When you play as well as we did against Zenit, of course you want the next game sooner rather than later. But it wasn't to be.
"We had a period of time to recuperate physically and mentally. The players have been outstanding in training, some of the intensity and quality has been great to see from a coaching perspective."
Defender Antolin Alcaraz made his comeback as a late substitute against Reading after almost six months out with a groin injury. Following Wigan's clean sheet in the basement-battle it is unlikely the Paraguayan will be rushed into a starting place just yet but his return is a welcome boost for a side that have already conceded 51 goals in the league this season. Fellow long-term defensive absentee Ivan Ramis (cruciate ligament) will not play again this season but midfielders Ben Watson and Ryo Miyaichi are close to returns following shin and foot problems respectively. Left-back Maynor Figueroa, a goal scorer against the Royals, faces a late fitness test on a slight ankle knock but is expected to be available. Reserve goalkeeper Mike Pollitt and winger Albert Crusat remain sidelined however.
Al Habsi, Boyce, Caldwell, Scharner, Figueroa, Beausejour, McCarthy, McArthur, Maloney, Kone, Di Santo
Wigan's top scorer was sorely missed whilst away at this year's Africa Cup of Nations but thankfully he has been making up for lost time since his return from South Afirca. Kone scored twice against Huddersfield in the FA Cup last weekend before hitting another brace at the Madejski on Saturday. The double double takes the Ivorians' tally for the season to 10 and much seemingly rests on him continuing to score goals if the Latics are to again prolong their stay in the top flight. Kone has a pace and directness to his game which worries defenders and despite being 29 it would not be a surprise to see bigger sides keeping an eye on his progress.
Cup-tied duo Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are available again after sitting out the recent European game. Both will presumably go straight back into the starting line-up, although Sturridge is nursing a slight knock, with two from Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing likely to make way depending on how attack-minded Rodgers opts to be. Defender Martin Skrtel has overcome a knee problem but is unlikely to break the current centre-back partnership of Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher. Italian forward Fabio Borini's season is over after he dislocated a shoulder against Swansea but Martin Kelly is finally nearing a return after knee surgery sidelined him back in September. Besides Kelly, the only other absentee is backup goalkeeper Brad Jones who is nursing a shoulder injury which means Peter Gulacsi will continue to provide cover for Pepe Reina.
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Suarez, Sturridge
Two brilliantly struck free-kicks against Zenit took Suarez's goal total for the season to 25 and although Liverpool are not in the running for any collective success the Uruguayan could easily secure some individual honours. In the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, Suarez currently sits second with 18 and is only one strike behind Manchester United's Robin van Persie. The pair, along with Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale, are also the leading candidates to be named PFA Player of the Year and given the way Suarez has excelled in a struggling side it would be a well deserved accolade if he edges the vote.
• Liverpool and Wigan have met 17 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand with 10 wins to the Latics' 2 (5 draws). Liverpool have scored a total of 32 goals compared to a tally of 12 for Wigan.
• Recent form in the fixture favours Wigan however and the hosts have only lost one of the last six Premier League meetings between the two sides after losing seven of the previous nine.
• If Wigan are to continue the run it is likely they will need to score at least once because they have conceded in all of their 13 home games in the Premier League so far this season.
• No Premier League side has drawn more games on the road this season than Liverpool (6). The figure includes the Reds last two away fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal.
• Luis Suarez is one of just three players from Europe's top five leagues to fire in more than 100 shots (excluding blocked). Unsurprisingly the other two are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
41-year-old official Martin Atkinson is the man appointed to oversee this fixture. The Bradford-based whistle blower has so far taken charge of 31 games in all competitions this season and shown 113 yellow and 1 red card. Wigan recorded an impressive 1-0 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane when they last encountered Atkinson. Liverpool have to go back to a 1-1 draw with Sunderland in September for their only contest involving Atkinson this season.
With nothing else to focus on, Rodgers will be keen to win as many league games as possible from now until the end of the season. Liverpool have a decent looking run-in so improving on their current position should not be too difficult but chances of reaching the holy grail of the top four are extremely remote. All things considered, finishing sixth and above Everton looks a more realistic target and three points at the DW Stadium will be very well received in attempting to achieve the aim. Wigan will of course have other ideas and Liverpool know all too well how difficult they can be at this stage of the season when their backs are against the wall.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 3-1 LFC win
Liverpool - Premier League v Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday 10th March 2013, kick off 4.00pm.
Wigan Athletic - FA Cup v Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday 9th March 2013, kick off 12.45pm.
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 our interview with a Wigan Athletic fan
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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Date:Thursday February 28 2013
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