Strong Liverpool Squad Named for Utrecht Europa League Clash

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2010

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool celebrates scoring the first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at at Anfield on September 25, 2010 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Roy Hodgson has named a stronger-than-usual squad for Liverpool's second Europa League group K match against Utrecht of Holland on Thursday night.

While previous squads have seen the likes of David Amoo, Stephen Darby, Dani Pacheco, and Martin Hansen feature, almost all of Liverpool's regular first team players have been selected to travel as Liverpool look to return from a disappointing run of form, which has seen them win just one of their last five matches.

The Reds kicked off their group stage with a 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest two weeks ago and a similar result will provide a massive confidence boost to a Reds team without a domestic victory since the end of August.

While captain Steven Gerrard and defender Daniel Agger have been left out of the traveling party, along with the injured left-back duo of Fabio Aurelio and Paul Konchesky, senior stars such as Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, and Fernando Torres have all been included.

Boss Hodgson looks set to name a strong side, both to attempt to return to winning ways and to give certain players the chance to increase their understanding with their teammates.

Against Steaua, regular 'keeper Reina was between the sticks but with Liverpool taking an early exit from the League Cup, Hodgson may decide that Brad Jones would benefit from playing more games in Europe.

The absence of any notable left back in the traveling squad may indicate that Martin Kelly will revert to the left side, with Glen Johnson keeping his place on the right.

Soto Kyrgiakos may come back into the team to help shore up a defence which has conceded 13 goals in 12 games this season—not stats usually associated with Liverpool's back line.

Dirk Kuyt's rapid comeback from shoulder injury in time for an emotional return to his first professional club should see him start on the right for the Reds, while Cole, Babel, Maxi, and Jovanovic are all vying for the left-sided role.

Torres' inclusion in the squad is surely a decision made with him starting the match in mind, as the Spanish striker aims to rediscover his scoring touch; but with four assists in his last two games, he is still a source of goals for Liverpool at present.

Hodgson must make the decision on whether to stick with Meireles playing behind Torres or to draft in Ngog as part of a two-man forward line.

The central midfield positions are also up for grabs with Poulsen, Lucas and youngster Jonjo Shelvey all hoping to get the nod.

One player who will be very hopeful of starting, however, is Jay Spearing; the 21-year old Scouser has won the Man of the Match award in his last two starts, against Steaua and Northampton. He will hope to continue his run of form as he presses for selection in Liverpool's league matches.

Reds' fans will be hoping for an improved defensive display and a little more assertion from their side, as they bid to overturn the slump in form which has seemingly run over from last season.

Languishing as they are in the bottom half of the league table—albeit so early in the season—the Europa League has until now offered a welcome respite for Liverpool, with the Reds taking five wins out of five in the competition so far.

Utrecht should offer Liverpool their sternest test yet in the tournament, and Hodgson and his players will have to put up a professional and determined display if they are to face Blackpool in the Premiership at the weekend having ended their recent miserable form.

Possible Liverpool team: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Kelly; Spearing, Lucas; Kuyt, Meireles, Jovanovic; Torres. Subs; Jones, Skrtel, Shelvey, Babel, Cole, Ngog, Eccleston. Not used; Poulsen, Maxi.