Injury problems have once again disrupted Liverpool’s preparations in the build up to the visit of Birmingham City this weekend. Both Jamie Carragher and Andy Carroll suffered injuries at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday and remain doubtful for Saturday’s game, stretching an already depleted squad, which is hanging on by its fingernails to the hope of European football next season.
They may be missing players through injury, but Liverpool will undoubtedly be feeling good about themselves after showing immense character to rescue a point from their trip to North London. Dirk Kuyt’s 102nd minute penalty – unsurprisingly the latest goal scored in Premier League history – showed nerves of steel whilst the performances of academy graduates John Flanagan, Jack Robinson and Jay Spearing drew much praise from the national media.
Coming on the back of a morale boosting 3-0 win over Manchester City, there is clearly a belief amongst the Reds that they can compete with the top teams in the league. Throughout this season, however, it has been the performances against the sides propping up the table which have given most cause for concern.
Against the teams currently in the bottom half of the Premier League, Liverpool have taken just 25 points from a possible 54 (their record against the top ten, 24 from 45, reads significantly better), and most recently this has manifested itself in defeats at West Brom and West Ham. Home defeats against Blackpool and Wolves, as well as a draw against Wigan, however, suggest this problem is not simply one of away day blues.
Birmingham have not been an easy team for Liverpool to face in recent years, indeed under Rafa Benítez the Reds never came out of a league match on top, although there was the small matter of a 7-0 victory in the FA Cup. The last seven league meetings between the two sides have all ended in draws whilst Birmingham did the double over Benítez in his first season in England. A first league win in the fixture since the 8th May 2004 would be timely in the continued chase for 5th place.
Liverpool has major worries over both Carragher and Carroll after the draw at the Emirates Stadium. Carroll slipped in the penalty area and suffered a knee injury which, although not as serious as was first feared, threatens to keep him out of this weekend’s match. Carragher, who was knocked unconscious in a clash of heads with Flanagan, has recovered remarkably quickly, but there remain doubts as to whether the medical department will clear him to play.
Should both be ruled out, Liverpool’s squad will be stretched almost to breaking point. Sotirios Kyrgiakos would be the most likely option to replace Carragher, whilst Dirk Kuyt may well be called upon to play up front should Carroll be ruled out. Maxi Rodríguez would be the most likely candidate to fill Kuyt’s vacant place on the right flank, though it was the returning Jonjo Shelvey who came on for the final twenty minutes against Arsenal when Carroll was withdrawn.
Birmingham are boosted by the return of centre back Martin Jiranek, who suffered a groin strain in the Carling Cup Final, meaning that Liam Ridgewell could be slotted back into his favoured left back position. That is likely to be the only change from the team that lost 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday as Birmingham look for the few points they need to cement their place in the Premier League.
Liverpool (possible): Reina; Flanagan, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Robinson; Kuyt, Lucas, Spearing, Meireles; Suárez, Carroll
Birmingham (probable): Foster; Carr, Jiranek, Johnson, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Gardner, Fahey, Hleb; Jerome