My God, a real game? As short as the summer break actually is for those of us infatuated with the Beautiful Game, it's always a relief when real fixtures knock on the door again. And we get one two weeks earlier than normal because....it's a European match! You scoff and laugh at the Zooropa League (which I think I'm calling it from now on) when you're in it, but go a year without any European football and suddenly it seems exciting. And who doesn't want a short trip to Belarus in August? I hear the avocados are coming in nicely.
The big news before the match is that Andy Carroll has been left behind, with some tongue-in-cheek reporting that it's a groin strain that's left him behind. Even if Carroll had played he would still be eligible for the main stage, if say...oh I don't know, Newcastle were to sign him. At this point fighting against the tide seems futile. Rodgers doesn't want him, a fee was already agreed with West Ham, probably in the hopes to get Newcastle to come even close to that number, and Andy's going to go. I'll be disappointed, and we'll discuss this heavily when it happens. For now, let's stick to the football.
With Carroll back at home with his agent, only Adam Morgan and Fabio Borini would be called strikers in those who have traveled. I would find it hard to believe that Morgan would be chucked out to start Rodgers's first competitive match for the Reds and his first European, so we'll get our first extended look at out new Italian. Strange that Dani Pacheco also hasn't traveled after an impressive American tour, so who flanks Borini in the front three is a bit of a mystery.
It's funny that in all my previews and posts about the preseason, I kept forgetting about Stewart Downing. Maybe it was out of desire, or maybe he hasn't done anything to make me remember him. Still, after getting one half in Baltimore, he can probably give you an hour tomorrow. And he's got some experience in Europe, so I'd imagine he'll start and go as far as he can. The other wing looks to be Raheem Sterling's, simply because there really isn't anyone else to play there.
The midfield three should be easier. Lucas looks poised to get his first start since his injury, and as long as Lucas is there and near full-strength things shouldn't get too hairy. Jordan Henderson has traveled, and even with only a brief runout against Spurs -- where he looked pretty good -- I imagine he starts as well. From there it'll either be Charlie Adam causing us to spit up or the impressive Jonjo Shelvey. If it's simply based on form, it'll be the shaven headed guy and not the naturally balding one who's an idiot.
Backline? Pretty simple. Agger hasn't trained as much as Carragher and Skrtel, so they go. No way Jack Robinson will be trusted with this assignment yet so Enrique starts no matter how bad he's been so far in preseason. On the other flank we haven't really seen Glen Johnson, and Wisdom is too green, so John Flanagan will go. You won't like it, but he will. Brad Jones will start as Pepe Reina is either just off vacation from his stand up tour or still on it.
The game is on FSC at 2pm EST. And no, I'm not going to pretend to know anything about FC Gomel I'll find out with you. I'll have a thread up here.
Let's do it, Reds. European nights are fun, and we'd like a lot of them.