Form is on Liverpool´s side and statistics not when the Reds face Bolton in the fourth round replay in the FA Cup tonight. A win would secure an away clash with Crystal Palace in the fifth round and take us just three steps from Wembley.
Lately Liverpool has performed better and better and looked like the team of last season. Not quite as good of course but the improvement has been clear.
Not so much in the last game versus Bolton, though. The Trotters put up a stubborn display at Anfield on the 24th of January and managed a 0-0 draw to earn a replay at Macron Stadium. But the result was mostly due to a lame Liverpool performance. If we can avoid that tonight and play to ur best present level then the Championship side will be eliminated.
The Reds can boast a few advantages. Liverpool has a stronger squad than Bolton and is in better form. We haven´t lost in the league since mid-December, a seven-match streak. Bolton on the other hand has just one win and five points from their last five league games. So it should be a comfortable Liverpool victory tonight. Well, if it wasn´t for the little thing called historical facts. Sometimes they decide to haunt you. And there is some worrying facts regarding Liverpool and the FA Cup in the last decades and our lack of FA Cup success in Bolton. Let´s look at the latter topic first.
Liverpool has travelled six times to Bolton to play in the FA Cup. Only once the Reds have managed to record a win. Bolton was victorious on four occasions and one match ended in a draw. The replay at Anfield resulted in another Bolton win.
Another disturbing FA Cup factor is our poor record in the competition since the Premier League was formed. During these 22 seasons Liverpool has reached the final on just four occasions, winning twice. We have also been knocked out in the quarter final once.
In the other 17 campaigns Liverpool has never progressed past the fifth round. We have been eliminated really early on 14 occasions, seven times in both third and fourth round. The fifth round has been the stumbling block three times.
So the historical and statistical message is clear. If we manage to get past Bolton and Crystal Palace in round four and five then Wembley awaits. But worringly there are more signs of us being knocked out by Bolton or Palace since we have a huge problem progressing further than fourth or fifth round.
However this time I hope, and believe, that statistics is put to bed and Liverpool downs Bolton tonight. This is the team I would select for the job (in a 3-4-3 formation):
GK: Simon Mignolet. RB: Emre Can. CB: Martin Skrtel. LB: Mamadou Sakho. DM: Lucas Leiva. RM: Steven Gerrard. CM: Jordan Henderson. LM: Alberto Moreno. LF: Adam Lallana. CF: Raheem Sterling. LF: Philippe Coutinho.
If Gerrard is fit he should replace Lazar Markovic as a wing-back to the right. Stevie can play anywhere with effect and Markovic needs a rest. Furthermore, with Gerrard to the right we wouldn´t dissolve the well working central duo of Henderson and Lucas. Alberto Moreno is slowly getting accustomed to the wing-back role and deserves to keep trying. Up front Sterling takes the strikers role since Daniel Sturridge presumably isn´t ready for 90 minutes yet.
I´d go for the 3-4-3 formation, it has been working pretty well and as long as it does it´s no point in changing. My favourite formation is 3-5-2 and has been for a long time. With the right players it´s the most effective line-up both defensively and attack-wise. But lately I have been quite taken by the 3-4-3 idea.
If Liverpool want to lift the FA Cup, probably our only chance of silverware left, then we must repeat our only win at Bolton in the FA Cup. It happened on the 20th of February 1965 in the fifth round. Liverpool left it late and the only goal of the game came in the 85th minute when Ian Callaghan scored. He claims the record of most Liverpool appearances and perhaps the guy third on that list, Stven Gerrard, can repeat Callaghans feat and hit the winner tonight. It would be perfect since it´s the captain´s 700th game, if he plays, in Liverpool colours. Let´s hope for a favourable result tonight to keep us in the FA Cup and makes it possible to say:
We Go Again.