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Who Will Start Against Chelsea?

From While there`s still work to be done, I think we`re looking odds on to advance to the group stages of the Champions League, after our 1-0 win in Toulouse. The game kicking off early and the sweltering heat ensured that the game was played at a slow pace and was pretty dull as a result, but I`m certainly not complaining. I thought it was a very good professional performance by The Reds as they snuffed out any hopes Toulouse might have had of causing an upset by taking almost total control of the game from the first whistle. As expected, Rafa had one eye on our weekend clash with CSKA London and made plenty of changes to the side that beat Villa on Saturday, but even so he put out a very strong starting line-up and it just goes to show the great strength in depth that the squad now has. With the game played at such a slow tempo it was difficult for Benayoun and Babel to make an impact on their competitive debuts but Voronin had no such problems and won the game for us with a brilliant strike. Crouch and Voronin formed a pretty decent partnership upfront that will give Rafa plenty of food for thought, and it was their link-up play that led to the goal. Crouch did very well to flick a header on to Voronin and with Gerrard doing some great running off the ball to create some space for him, Voronin took the ball down, turned and smashed the ball into the top corner from 25 yards. A great strike from what looks to be a great signing by the boss. It would have been nice to grab another goal or two to make the second leg more of a formality, but I don`t think we`ll have any trouble wrapping this one up back at Anfield in the second leg. The only downside for us was that Gerrard picked up a knock in the game, but it didn`t look too serious and he should be alright for the weekend. Although they weren`t exactly put under any immense pressure, I thought our defence were excellent in the game and didn`t give Toulouse a sniff. There have been continuing rumours linking Hyypia with a possible move to Fulham but I really hope this doesn't happen. He came into the defence and had a great game for us. While its true that he lacks pace, his reading of the game is so good that it rarely becomes an issue and the fact the he slots into our defence so seamlessly, allows us the option of giving Carra or Agger a break from time to time. He is also a towering presence for us both in defence and attack. I think he has another good couple of seasons in him and we would be crazy to let him go. I often forget to mention Arbeloa, but I thought he also did well for us in the game and he has been quietly developing since he joined us in January. He seems to be pretty consistent no matter what side he`s playing on. While I prefer Finnan to play as often as possible on the right, I think Arbeloa is starting to surpass Riise as our best option at left back, and I think he`ll be more of a regular there for us this season, particularly as I can`t see this deal for Heinze happening. The other big plus point from the game for me was Mascherano, but I`ll come back to him later. So now that we`ve put that game behind us, all the attention can now turn to our Sunday showdown with the boys from Londongrad. I think its fair to say that this game has come earlier in the season then either club would have liked, but as things have worked out, this perhaps works more in our favour then theirs. I watched the chavs play earlier this evening against Reading and their weekend game with Birmingham, and although they ended up winning both games, they had to do so by coming from behind on both occasions. While this may be a good sign of their resilience and I think its also pretty clear that they have some problems in defence. Obviously, not having Terry available in those games was a big loss to their defence and although he is meant to return for our game at the weekend, he will not be fully fit. They will also face further problems now that Carvalho is likely to be out with a knee injury he sustained in the first half at Reading and Michael Essien may also be missing through injury. So it may be that now is a good time for us to be facing them and the question is, how can we take advantage of the situation? With a couple of exceptions, who I don`t think would have played anyway, we have a pretty much full strength squad going into the game. This gives Rafa a selection headache for the game and although it`s the kind of headache he will enjoy having, it can also present its own problems in terms of keeping everybody happy. I think players can except that they are going to be rotated in and out of the side throughout the season, but nobody likes to miss out on the big games and I think no matter who he picks, its likely that he`ll have a few players knocking on his door come Monday morning. So who should be in our starting line-up on Sunday? I think the defence is straightforward and Agger should return to the back four to play alongside Carra, with Finnan on the right and Arbeloa on the left. In midfield its obvious Gerrard will play in the centre, assuming his injury isn`t as bad as it appeared, but there are some questions as to who should play beside him. As much as I like Alonso and Sissoko, I think if his fitness is up to speed, Mascherano must play. I thought he was excellent against Toulouse and he really is a super player who would appear to be a perfect foil for Gerrard. On the wings I think Riise will continue on the left. I don`t think he has pulled up any trees with his performances so far, but I think he links up well with Arbeloa on that side and has plenty of experience of playing against them. Besides this, Kewell is injured (again) and I don`t think Babel or Benayoun are ready for this type of game just yet. Although I have my doubts about Pennant, I think the fact that he was rested for the Toulouse game would seem to indicate he will play on the right. In fairness to him he did well in this fixture last season and scored his only goal for the club in that game. I think our biggest selection dilemma is up front. After their promising performance as a strike partnership against Aston Villa, I think Torres and Kuyt would be many peoples favourites to start this game. However, I don`t think its as clear cut as that. Crouch must also be in the managers mind for this one. He always seems to do well against the chavs and manages to give Terry and co a lot problems to deal with and if they are having problems in defence, he could be the very man to unsettle them, as he did in our 2-0 victory over them last season. And lets not discount Andriy Voronin. He`s been perhaps the most impressive of our forwards throughout pre-season and he scored that cracking goal for us against Toulouse, so he too will feel he has a strong shout for a place in the side. My guess is that he will probably go with Kuyt and Torres but I don`t think we can afford not to at least have the option bringing Crouch on from the bench. So I think Voronin might just miss out, unless he includes two forwards among the subs. Although the season has only just begun, this game is hugely important and I think if you offered Mourinho a point right now, he`d snap your hand off. But, although a point for us would maintain the status quo, I think if we really have title intentions this season, the onus is on us to win this game. With the mancs dropping points in their first two games and the chance to take three points from the chavs, it really is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. It gives us a chance to gain an early advantage over them both, and you just don`t get too many chances like that, so you`ve got to make the most of them when they come your way, if you want to be champions. Besides this, we can`t keep relying on these teams to slip up against other sides, we`ve got to go all out to beat them ourselves when we get the chance. As this will be our first home game of the season, and considering the opposition, the Kop will be even more manic then usual. While I don`t know if this will have much of an effect on chavski, I know that it will have a positive effect on ours, so my money`s on a nail-biting 2-1 win for The Reds and what a time it would be for Torres to get off the mark.

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