September 29, 2010 | In: Articles
UEL: FC Utrecht V Liverpool
Group K Position: 1st
Group K Form: W (4-1 Steaua Bucharest – H)
Roy Hodgson is set to name a strong XI for Liverpool’s UEFA Europa League clash with Dutch opponents FC Utrecht, with the Reds about to embark upon their 300th UEFA club competition on Thursday evening. While the competition itself may not be up to Liverpool’s high standards, with Champions League football almost a must for one of England’s most prestigious clubs, it does at least represent an ample opportunity to reinvigorate some dressing room confidence following a slow start domestically.
Liverpool have made a flawless start to life in Europe’s second tier competition, having won every single Europa League fixture thus far although four of those were qualifiers. Even so, their form in Europe is in stark contrast to that domestically, with Liverpool languishing down in 16th position in the Premier League table having won just won of their opening six league games, while they were embarrassingly humbled by lower league opposition in the form of Northampton Town in the League Cup. You could say that with the League Cup gone and the Premier League seemingly out of reach, the Europa League is now of great importance for a club which has lost his way when it comes to clinching silverware; the 2005/2006 FA Cup the last time their loyal fans had something to shout about.
While winning the Europa League wouldn’t fix any of the numerous problems currently wrong with the club and team, it would at least go some way to keeping the fans sweet. However, even a successful Europa League campaign seems unrealistic what with Liverpool severely deprived of form back home in England and having not won away from home against notable opposition since beating Burnley back in April, although even they were later relegated and that remains their one and only away win of 2010 worth mentioning up till this point.
As mentioned a little earlier, we’re anticipating a strong set up from Kop boss Roy Hodgson, who has spent most of his tenure as Liverpool manager on the back foot and having to defend the team’s inadequacies on the pitch. Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres were among those who didn’t feature in Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest on Match Day 1, a result which sent the Reds top of Group K, but all three are expected to return from the off as Liverpool look to continue this winning pretence of theirs in the competition, before returning back home and hoping straight back into the pressure cooker that is the English Premier League.
Group K Position: 2nd
Group K Form: D (0-0 Napoli – A)
A little like their Group K opponents, although without the burden of being expected to win all their games, FC Utrecht have also made a sluggish start domestically and arrive at Match Day 2 of the UEFA Europa League group stage off the back of a disappointing weekend result away in Alkmaar, losing 1-0 to AZ Alkmaar in what was their fourth league defeat of the season. However, the Galgenwaard Stadion has been a fortress for the side this season, both in Europe and back home in Holland, with Utrecht unbeaten at home all season, having won all three of their home encounters in the Dutch Eredivisie up till now.
To expand on the team’s solid form at home, FC Utrecht also claim the rights to SPL side Celtic’s scalp, with Ton Du Chatinier’s team romping to a 4-0 win at the Galgenwaard Stadion in the UEFA Europa League play-off. The player at the heart of this Celtic demolition job was promising young forward, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, who has recently been linked with a move to Liverpool and could well attract plenty of interest from other big clubs in the near future, after the 21 year-old single handily tore Celtic to shrews in the second leg of their play-off and took his tally in the competition to five goals, now just one behind Liverpool striker David Ngog.
It is important that the hosts don’t be overawed by their glamorous opponents, with manager Chatinier already expressing how much the club were desperate to see Liverpool drop into their group. Utrecht began well enough in their Group K opener, earning a hard-fought draw in Italy away to Napoli. They have players which can cause Liverpool problems and if they play with the same intensity which has seen them win all three of their Eredivisie fixtures at home thus far, as well as thrashing Celtic 4-0, then they could spring a surprise on Thursday.
Match Prediction: Liverpool to WIN – 2.20 Coral
A difficult match to weigh up in fairness, with Utrecht’s impressive record at home this season meriting a lot of respect but it’s Liverpool who boast the greater bulk of quality within their ranks, with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres way too good to be playing Europa League football.
If this were a Liverpool side in form then there wouldn’t be any question as to who we think would win, but the Reds are rocking at present, with their morale and confidence well and truly drained following a lacklustre start to their league campaign. Their form away from home in particular has been very poor, and even though they’ve only lost just one of twelve meetings with teams from the Netherlands, Liverpool look far too vulnerable and fragile to backing them away from home right now at what is very slim odds.
Even so, the fact they’re playing away from home could actually benefit them on this rare occasion. The hosts tend to play on the front foot whenever at home, mainly because they’re so poor on the road, and if they push up too far or do so happen to overcommit then players like Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are waiting in the wings to pounce; players with a proven track record of punishing opponents for any sort of complacency.
Soccer-Betting Value Bet: Dirk Kuyt to Score Anytime – 4.00 Bet365
If Torres is ever going to find some form then the Europa League is certainly the place to do it and with Utrecht looking to be the aggressor at home, there could very well be some space at the back ready to exploited by a Spaniard lacking in self belief at present. Kuyt, though, well he’s always been a resilient sort and this trip to Utrecht is a homecoming for him, having spent nearly five years with FC Utrecht either side of the millennium and after grabbing his first goal of the season at the weekend, we reckon Liverpool’s industrious winger is worth a punt.
FC Utrecht – 3.80 VCBet
Draw – 3.40 SkyBet
Liverpool – 2.20 Coral