Hearts vs. Liverpool: Key Battles to Watch in Europa League Qualifying Playoff
The Scottish side have had a solid start to their Scottish Premier League campaign—unbeaten in their first three matches—and should be full of confidence playing in front of their own fans, where they have scored four times in two matches this season.
Liverpool's English Premier League campaign could not have gotten off to a worse start though, as they were reduced to 10 men and lost 3-0 against West Brom.
The away team are likely to rest a number of players ahead of a league clash with Manchester City this weekend.
Here are the key battles to look out for in the match.
Andy Carroll vs. Peter Enckelman
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We'll start with one battle which might not take place—neither of these two could end up playing.
Andy Carroll is carrying a minor knock which he hopes to shake off in time to start for Liverpool, while Peter Enckelman is only Hearts' second-choice goalkeeper.
However, regular stopper, Jamie MacDonald, could miss the match as he attends the birth of his child.
Both players will be determined to seize their chance to impress if they do get the nod, and if so, this is one of the battles which could determine the size of Liverpool's task in the second leg back at Anfield. Are they already safe having done the job in Edinburgh, or will they need to risk starting more first team players just a few days before facing Arsenal in the Premier League?
Daniel Agger vs. John Sutton
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With the Dane having to serve a suspension in the Premier League against Manchester City at the weekend, Daniel Agger is likely to keep his place in the team for the Europa League fixture.
It is likely he will be partnered by Sebastian Coates, who will make his first appearance of the season.
Agger is one of the top defenders in the continent, and will be up against John Sutton, Hearts' striker who has already scored twice this season from the penalty spot.
Sutton is hardworking and knows where the goal is, and will try to give Agger problems with his movement off the ball.
Jon Flanagan vs. Andrew Driver
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Young right-back for Liverpool, Jon Flanagan, should get an opportunity to start for the first time under Brendan Rodgers, taking Martin Kelly's place in defence.
The tough-tackling Scouser offers a no-holds-barred approach to defending, combining robust challenges with a composure on the ball.
He needs game time to improve further, so a loan spell this season isn't out of the equation, but if picked against Hearts—he will face a real test with the pacey and tricky Andrew Driver on the left wing for the home team.
Driver is one of the SPL's stand-out players, and is a constant outlet for the Edinburgh side.
Jack Robinson vs. David Templeton
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On the opposite side of the pitch, a similar battle will ensue.
David Templeton is Hearts' right winger, and he will be up against Liverpool's youngest ever player in Jack Robinson.
With only Jose Enrique as natural competition this season, Robinson will be hoping to have an impact at Europa League level to prove he can cut it at Liverpool and make plenty more Premier League appearances whenever possible.
Robinson has the talent, and this competition will give him the platform to showcase it.
Jonjo Shelvey vs. Mehdi Taouil
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The centre of the park will be an interesting battle, with Liverpool's keep-ball approach contrasting with the blood-and-thunder of Hearts.
Not to say that the home midfielders can't play with the ball, but they are there first and foremost to win the ball and support the wider players, who are far more adventurous and attack-minded.
Medhi Taouil will have his hands full as Liverpool seek to overload Hearts in the middle, with a 3-on-2 battle likely to prove a big advantage for the Reds.
Jonjo Shelvey will be key to ensure that they do not become complacent and predictable in possession, with his athletic style and overly-optimistic-at-times passing providing a more than possible route to goalscoring chances through the home team's packed defence.