This Saturday, Anfield sees the coming together of two teams who must both be beginning to feel that sinking feeling when all you’ve worked for the entire season seems to be falling apart. Both teams missed crucial chances over the week to get closer to their season goals. While Charlie Austin’s nervy penalty miss meant QPR missed the chance to move within 2 points of escaping the drop zone, Liverpool missed the chance to take advantage of United’s slip-up at Goodison Park, with a demoralising 1-0 loss at the KC Stadium leaving them 7 points off the Champions League places. Neither has their fate in their own hands now. All they can do is win their own games and hope for the best, and with just 4 games left in the season run-in to make up lost ground, neither has any margin for error. Saturday’s showdown could mean either a hopeful step in the right direction, or the final nail in the coffin of either of the teams.
Flanagan is set to be out for 6-9 months as he underwent a third surgery to heal a knee injury that now seriously threatens to derail his young career. Sturridge’s thigh injury too is likely to see him miss the rest of a frustrating season on the sidelines. The continued absence of Sakho and Lucas continues to give a headache to Rodgers, as they are two players he would have loved to have had the luxury of selecting for the remainder of the season run-in. Goal-shy Balotelli is less of a loss to Rodgers with an apparent ankle/foot injury, but he is a loss nonetheless for a team struggling to find the back of the net.
Possible Line Up: Mignolet; Johnson, Can, Skrtel, Moreno; Henderson, Gerrard, Allen; Ibe, Coutinho, Sterling
Traore, Doughtly, Vargas and Faurlin remain long-term injuries for the Hoops. Ferdinand and Zarate will have late tests to assess their fitness for the game, but it is Bobby Zamora’s thigh injury which the QPR medical staff will be sweating over the most to hope he passes his late fitness test to provide Austin support up front.
Possible Line Up: Green; Onouha, Dunne, Caulker, Hill; Phillips, Barton, Sandro, Henry; Fer, Austin
- Liverpool have conceded 5 goals fewer than the same time last season, but they’ve also scored 46 fewer goals as well.
- Liverpool’s front men last season scored 55 league goals between them- Sturridge(21), Balotelli(11), Lambert(13) and Borini(7). So far, they have a combined of 8 league goals, the least of any strikeforce in the Premier League (Palace come second worst with their front men getting 11)
- QPR have gathered only 7 points away from home all season, with 4 of those coming in their last two away games: Villa (D) and West Brom (W)
- The two clubs have faced off a total of 47 times, with Liverpool winning 33, QPR 7 and 7 draws. QPR’s one and only win at Anfield came in a 3-1 win in the First Division on 30th March, 1991.
Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool
His inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year may have evoked controversy, but there remains no doubt of Coutinho’s importance in the Liverpool side. While he has just 4 assists this season, that also comes down to the lack of finishing ability of the players in front of him. He has created 48 chances this season, but his chance to conversion ratio is an abysmal 12:1 (as compared to Chelsea’s of around 5:1 for Fabregas’ chances created). Additionally, with 96 successful take-ons this season, Coutinho has the ability to run at and take out 3-4 defenders by himself, thus opening the kind of spaces that players of the ilk of Sterling and Henderson can then exploit. He also stands out in his ability to create something out of nothing, which might be key to a side struggling to re-create the free-flowing attacking football that characterized their last season title challenge. Liverpool no longer are running away with games in a burst of 20-25 explosive minutes of football. Rather, until the summer when they have the chance to recruit again, they might be looking at individual sparks of genius to sneak away with games. And there are few as adept as the Brazilian in providing that.
Charlie Austin- QPR
There remains only one player who has always been and will continue to be QPR’s best shot at winning the relegation battle and escaping the dreaded clutches of the Championship again. While his penalty miss last week must’ve deflated both him and his team’s hopes, Charlie Austin will be key to unlocking a Liverpool defence that have kept 14 clean sheets in the league this season. With 17 goals and 4 assists, Austin provides his team with the numbers that matter. His partner-in-crime Bobby Zamora faces a late fitness test and the pressure will be all the more on Austin to lead the Hoops attack. He must put aside the disappointment of last week and back himself once again. And if the season so far is any indicator, he is more than capable of doing just that.
Both teams are struggling at the moment, but QPR’s woeful away form is tough to look beyond. Liverpool’s defence should be able to keep to keep QPR at bay, while even a less cohesive combination of Sterling, Henderson and Coutinho might be a bit too much for the QPR defence to handle. I’m going with a 2-0 win to Liverpool.