At last, the international break is over – no more chatter about flooded pitches in Poland or a team from San Marino that was so bad they could have been vastly improved if they’d played Andrei Voronin up front. Club football is back, and for Liverpool that means a home match against Reading.
In a slight novelty, it’s also a home match that’s a 3pm kick off on a Saturday afternoon, Liverpool’s first of the season. How times change.
One of Brendan Rodgers’ key priorities at the start of the season was to improve Liverpool’s home form, and to turn Anfield back into a place where teams hated to visit. That hasn’t quite happened yet, although in Rodgers’ defence the run of fixtures has been extremely tough.
There were some bright spots last time out against Stoke, but a worrying lack of cutting edge – all too familiar from home games last season – still bothered the team in the final third. Liverpool have won only two of their thirteen home games in 2012, a run of form that they are desperate to turn around.
The game represents, on paper at least, Liverpool’s most winnable home game of the season so far, and it comes before a tricky looking run of league fixtures against Everton, Newcastle and Chelsea. Rodgers will be very keen for his team to display the kind of attacking fluency and penetration that saw the team put five past Norwich – an early goal could make all the difference in terms of the team’s confidence and momentum.
Liverpool go into the match with a number of injury headaches. Alongside long-term absentees Lucas Leiva and Martin Kelly, Fabio Borini’s broken foot has ruled the Italian international out for three months. Liverpool are also surprisingly sweating on the fitness of Pepe Reina, who has returned from international duty with a slight hamstring strain. Brad Jones is on stand-by if Reina fails to pass a fitness test to start the game. The manager will also be keen to see how Luis Suarez is feeling on his return from South America, having played two games in five days, the second of which was at altitude in Bolivia.
Should Reina and Suarez both turn out to be fit to play, then expect Rodgers to field a very similar starting XI to that which played against Stoke. His only tricky decision is likely to come in midfield, with a choice to be made between the composed passing and technical ability of Nuri Sahin or the more direct and dynamic Jonjo Shelvey. Samid Yesil, the German youth international whose performances at international level are creating quite a stir around the club, is likely to be rewarded with a place on the bench instead of the injured Borini.
Reading’s league position does not reflect the fact that they have played well in sustained periods of games this season, leading in the games against Chelsea, Newcastle and Swansea before being undone by a combination of poor refereeing and their own defensive naivety at this level. However, Reds fans would do well to remember that Reading’s last visit to Anfield was in an FA Cup third round replay in January 2010, when they won 2-1 after extra time thanks to a late Shane Long winner.
Liverpool have won both of the team’s most recent Premier League meetings at Anfield, and will go into the match as favourites. If they can get off to a good start and grab an early goal, we might see more of the encouraging football that was played at Norwich. If Reading can come and frustrate Liverpool though, then it’ll be a battle to avoid another toothless and fruitless home performance like the one against Stoke.
I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for the former, and go with a home win.
L4L Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Reading
Find me on twitter @rossco1981