Steaua Bucharest Vs Liverpool: Who Will Hodgson Pick to Play?
Liverpool start their group phase of the Europa League on Thursday with a trip to Romanian outfit Steaua Bucharest. After negotiating the initial qualifiers with aggregate victories over FC Rabotnicki (4-0) and Trabzonspor (3-1), Liverpool have been handed a tough group containing, as well as Steaua, Italian side Napoli and Dutch outfit Utrecht.
Sunday's draw at St. Andrew's against Birmingham City saw Liverpool pick from a near full strength squad, with only Joe Cole, Fabio Aurelio and Dirk Kuyt unavailable.
Boss Roy Hodgson has already stated that he will use the Europa League as a chance for the fringe players to enjoy game time and give the regulars, presumably such as Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, the chance to rest.
Who then will make Hodgson's squad for the group opener in Romania?
In goal, Brad Jones is a likely candidate to make his Reds debut as a replacement for usual 'keeper Pepe Reina. Carling Cup games are probably the best source of games for Jones but the Australian could also feature heavily at the beginning of Liverpool's European campaign, especially with a big league match against Manchester United looming large at the weekend.
Daniel Agger and Sotirios Kyrgiakos were both named on the bench at the weekend for Liverpool, while Martin Kelly did not make the match day squad at all. All three have already played in the Europa League for Liverpool and it would not be a surprise to see the three of them lineup in defence on Thursday night. With Fabio Aurelio still struggling for fitness, Paul Konchesky could make his second Reds appearance after recovering from the knock which saw him substituted against Birmingham. Danny Wilson made his first start for Liverpool's Reserve team on Tuesday night in a 2-0 win over their Wolves counterparts and may be part of the squad which travels to Romania, but could have to wait a while longer to make his full debut.
In midfield, Hodgson has further decisions to make. Youngster Jay Spearing has played in 2 Europa League games so far for Liverpool, starting the first leg against Rabotnicki and coming on as substitute in the second leg. With Poulsen and Lucas having played against Birmingham, it may be a chance for the local born midfielder to get his second start of the season.
Raul Meireles is likely to also feature, with a full Reds debut a possibility after he played the final 15 minutes against Birmingham. Joe Cole is likely to return to the first team after he was suspended for domestic competitions; with the aim to increase his match fitness ahead of the weekend clash with rivals Manchester United.
On either flank, Maxi could start his second game in four days as Kuyt continues his rehabilitation from a shoulder injury, while Milan Jovanovic may be another player rested after featuring in most games so far this season. David Amoo and Ryan Babel may be in with a chance to play from the start, but Spanish starlet Dani Pacheco will be hoping to get a 90 minute appearance under his belt after some impressive cameo performances from the bench in recent weeks.
With Fernando Torres likely to be rested, top scorer David Ngog will hope to play up front, with Ryan Babel his main challenger for a starting berth.
Other youngsters and fringe players such as Jonjo Shelvey, Nathan Eccleston and Stephen Darby will also hope to feature in the travelling squad.
Possible Reds team: Jones; Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Konchesky; Spearing, Meireles; Maxi, Cole, Pacheco; Ngog. Subs: Gulacsi/Reina, Wilson/Darby, Carragher, Poulsen, Babel, Eccleston, Amoo/Shelvey.
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