Liverpool picked up their biggest win of the season at the weekend with a 2-0 Anfield victory against league leaders Chelsea, but tonight they face an arguably just as important fixture away to Wigan Athletic.
As big as the three points were for the Reds at the weekend, it will ultimately be of little use having beaten Chelsea if they go on to perform poorly in the two fixtures this week against first Wigan and then Stoke, both of which are away matches.
As things stand in the Premier League table, a win tonight against the Latics could feasibly move Liverpool up to sixth position, with Sunderland and Spurs having drawn last night and Bolton facing a tricky trip to Everton. That would cap a remarkable turnaround from less than three weeks ago when the Reds were languishing in 19th place having lost the Merseyside derby in terrible fashion.
Roberto Martinez's side have been rather a mixed bag this season in terms of performances, but the results have been consistently poor. Their only wins of the season came against Wolves at home and Tottenham away, while their past two matches have seen defeats to Blackburn (2-1) and Fulham (2-0), both away from home.
Lying in 18th position, Wigan will rely on their home form to take them away from the drop zone, where they are capable of passing the ball around with confidence and style.
In Hugo Rodallega and Charles N'Zogbia, the Lancashire side boast two genuine match-winners on their day, in addition to an array of exciting - but hugely inconsistent - side performers such as Mauro Boselli, Victor Moses and Franco di Santo. Both Rodallega and N'Zogbia have troubled Liverpool in the past and Hodgson and his men will do well to nullify the threat of both attackers at the DW Stadium tonight.
Liverpool's hope will be that with the resurgence of confidence and, displayed in the first half against Chelsea, ability in passing the ball around they can outplay Wigan at what the home side would consider their own game, but it is also vital that the Reds match and better their opponents for intensity and commitment.
In Diame and Hendry Wigan have the option of playing combative and tireless midfielders. Both can be frustratingly limited in possession of the ball or wonderfully imaginative, but equally both are capable of making mistakes and should Lucas and Gerrard put them under the same type of pressure to which they afforded the likes of Mikel and Ramires on Sunday, Liverpool should enjoy some dominance in the vital midfield areas tonight.
The return to goal-scoring form of star striker Fernando Torres is a huge boost that cannot be underestimated by anybody, but equally the service which he received for the two goals was of marked difference to previous matches this season. Kuyt's exquisite pass over the Chelsea defence for the first goal and Meireles and Lucas' tenacity in midfield to win the ball back and find Torres for the second goal were clear indications of what has been missing in Liverpool's season up until recently.
The same sort of service to Torres on a regular basis will ensure more goals are forthcoming.
Roy Hodgson will have a number of decisions to make tonight; first and foremost will be whether to stick with the starting eleven which defeated Chelsea, meaning Martin Kelly will make his second Premiership start and Dirk Kuyt's fitness is high enough to play his second game in three days after several weeks out injured.
Hodgson also has the option of bringing back into the team Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio, who seem to have recovered from groin and achilles injuries respectively.
Ryan Babel is unlikely to be risked while Danny Agger is a long term absentee; Joe Cole and Soto Kyrgiakos are both missing with injury and illness.
This is an eminently winnable game for Liverpool and make no mistake about it, it is imperative that, on the back of a four-game winning streak, the Reds go for the jugular and attempt to win the game, not merely avoid defeat. While a draw would extend the current unbeaten run to six games, a win would move them at least two places up the table and in a good position to close the gap on the top four after next weekend's game with Stoke, as at least one of the Manchester teams will drop points tonight and Arsenal face a potentially tricky double-header away to Wolves and Everton.
Preferred Liverpool line-up: (4:4:2) Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Meireles, Gerrard, Lucas, Maxi; Kuyt, Torres. Subs, Hansen/Jones, Wilson, Aurelio, Johnson, Spearing, Jovanovic, Ngog.
Probable Liverpool line-up: (4:4:2) Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Meireles, Gerrard, Lucas, Maxi; Kuyt, Torres. Subs, Hansen/Jones, Kelly, Aurelio, Spearing, Shelvey, Jovanovic, Ngog.
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