Friday, November 23, 2007

Season Summaries--5. Liverpool

5. Liverpool (My preseason prediction: 3rd)

One of only two still-unbeaten teams left in the Premiership, Liverpool have had quite the roller coaster of a season. There was a stretch in September in which Liverpool scored only one goal in three Premiership matches, taking just five out of nine points from Portsmouth, Birmingham, and Wigan. From the middle of September into the middle of October, Liverpool played three Champions League matches and didn't win any of them, most surprising of which was a 1-0 loss at home against Marseille. Injuries also limited the choices Rafa Benitez had to pick from for a gameday squad and some important players went down: Daniel Agger has been out since mid-September with a broken metatarsal and has missed 13 matches; he looks set to return to the lineup this weekend, Fernando Torres has had to fight a strained adductor, Yossi Benayoun is out with an adductor tear, and Xabi Alonso has missed time with a broken metatarsal as well. These four players all are critical figures in the lineup and their absence has been a major factor in Liverpool's season so far.

However, a controversial 2-1 derby victory at Everton seems to have turned Liverpool's season around, as after another surprising Champions League loss at Turkish club Beskitas four days after, the Reds haven't lost in any competition. They thrashed Besiktas 8-0 at Anfield to thrust themselves right back into the mix to qualify for the knockout rounds of the Champions League, drew with Arsenal in a game they were 10 minutes away from winning, picked up a point at Blackburn (again, they could've won that game with a bit more luck), beat Cardiff in the Carling Cup to advance to the quarterfinals of that competition and spoiling Robbie Fowler's return to Anfield in the process, and dominated Fulham for 90 minutes in getting a 2-0 win. Liverpool haven't conceded a goal in the month of November and with Daniel Agger's supposed return this weekend against Newcastle, I can't see that stat changing.

As Liverpool are getting healthier and healthier, their schedule is getting easier and easier. Newcastle, Bolton, Reading, and Derby make up four of Liverpool's next six Premiership games with the other two coming against Manchester United and Portsmouth (both at Anfield). Liverpool play FC Porto and Marseille to complete their group stage schedule in the Champions League and should win both of those games to advance, especially as the more difficult game of the two (Porto) is at Anfield.

Torres leads the team in Premiership goals scored with 5 in 7 starts (10 appearances), and Andriy Voronin and captain Steven Gerrard have chipped in with three goals apiece. Liverpool have a game in hand on three of the four teams ahead of them; Arsenal has also played 12 games but Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea have all played 13, and most impressively, have the most points away from home out of any team in the Premiership. You have to figure that their home record (2-4-0) will only get better and if Liverpool can keep up their road form, this is a team that will leap back up into the top two or three by the end of the season.

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