Steaua have been consistently inconsistent in recent months, as they have been unable to put together a run long enough to have a significant impact on their campaign. Just as something appears to be blooming, they have allowed themselves to be nipped in the bud.
Their last five games showcase the sort of inconsistency they have had, as a goalless draw against local rivals Rapid Bucharest was followed by a domestic cup game against the same side, but away from home. This resulted in a narrow 1-0 victory for Steaua.
But before their supporters could begin to relax, a loss to Gaz Metan Medias was in the offing. An expected victory over 14th placed Targu Mures followed, and their most recent game was a 2-2 draw at home to CFR Cluj.
They are currently placed sixth in their domestic league, the Liga 1, but a 10 point gap with the league leaders at the halfway point in their season means that a title victory looks unlikely. Still, another Europa League run could be on the cards if they can shake off the stuttering stop-start nature of their form and go on an elongated positive run instead.
In Europe’s second-tier competition itself, Steaua began with a difficult 4-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield, before drawing with Napoli and away at Utrecht. But in all fairness, the result against the Italian club must have felt like a loss, as Marius Lacatus’ men surrendered a three-goal lead to tamely fall prey to a strong comeback from Napoli. Still, they made up for it with a victory at home to Utrecht, and now host group leaders Liverpool in a tie they will want to get something out of.
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has admitted that he will ring in the changes in light of the game against Aston Villa during the weekend.
The focus on Villa is due to the mediocre performance in the Premier League, which is reflected in an anonymous mid-table position at the moment. Sitting in 10th place sandwiched between newly promoted Blackpool and Newcastle United may not have been the idea that the Reds supporters may have had in their minds, but the competitive nature of the league means that fortunes can change quickly.
It wasn’t long ago, when the Merseysiders travelled to London and took the lead against Tottenham, which prompted thoughts of what could be. But then they got dragged down again as a resurgent Spurs side managed to level matters before scoring the winner deep into stoppage time.
Still, the performance was there, and they will have to build on that performance with the right result against Steaua to regain the confidence that was lost in London - since a victory and qualification into the knockout round with a game to spare would be a much-needed morale booster for Hodgson’s men.
However, the former Fulham boss has chosen to field a weakned side, partly due to injuries and partly of his own volition. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard are out through injury, while Daniel Agger is still unavailable for selection. And in addition to this, Hodgson has chosen to leave Fernando Torres out of the squad, to give the Spaniard some rest before the clash against Gerard Houllier’s men.
With Danny Wilson and Martin Kelly set to start, the captaincy is likely to go to Pepe Reina or Sotirios Kyrgiakos by the manager’s own admission.
But all said and done, even the relatively weakened team certainly has more quality than their opponents, which is likely to be enough reason for the manager not to second guess his decision of concentrating more on the weekend game than the task at hand.
Home advantage means that coach Marius Lacatus is likely to field a good attacking line-up for the day, with vice-captain Bogdan Stancu and the prolific Greek goal scorer Pantelis Kapetanos leading the line.
Despite being at the receiving end of a 4-1 result at Anfield, a positive style of football is likely to be the order of the day.
Possible starting XI: Tatarusanu; Bonfim, Alves, Galamaz, Latovlevici; Nicolita, Tanase, Gardos, Szekely; Stancu, Kapetnos.
Jamie Carragher (shoulder) is out for three months, while skipper Steven Gerrard (hamstring) still needs more time to return from injury. Daniel Agger (calf) is also unavailable for the trip to Romania, while Jay Spearing (ankle) is also sidelined.
Roy Hodgson has decided to rest Fernando Torres for this one, with the weekend tie against Aston Villa in mind, with youngster Dani Pacheco expected to come into the fold.
The gaffer will also start with Martin Kelly and Danny Wilson, to give the young Reds some more experience while they in turn are given a chance to stake a claim for a place in the first-team.
Possible starting XI: Reina; Kelly, Kyrgiakos , Wilson, Aurelio; Babel, Shelvey, Poulsen, Jovanovic; Cole; Pacheco.