Qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League is on the line in the penultimate match of group play, with Young Boys visiting Anfield and both sides just a point ahead of Anzhi at the top.
Even though they played on Saturday, it feels like forever since we last saw Liverpool in action. Matches in which they play well tend to have that effect--maybe it's just that the good performances have actually been few and far between, and that's what makes it seem like a long time, given that I could have watched the second-half performance against Wigan for about three more hours.
So any chance to get going in welcomed, even if it comes in the midst of watching one of the club's more successful managers in recent memory head in a discernibly not good direction. Tomorrow has real, genuine meaning, and while last season's domestic cup runs provided a boost in that department, there's something a little different about European competition. It's not the spectacle of last night or tonight, but it's meaningful, and there's potential for Liverpool to take a step towards securing progress, as a win (and the right result in the other match) could lock it up.
It won't be the stroll that many had thought it'd be when the groups were announced, when Young Boys had been earmarked as the weak link in an otherwise strong-seeming Group A. The opening minutes in Bern certainly lent credence to that line of thought, but the subsequent comeback and performances after two losses to open group play have meant that the group's far closer than anyone might have predicted. They haven't quite been able to hang on in league, falling far off the pace of the top four, giving added meaning to the chance at qualification beyond the group stages.
Raul Bobadilla and Raphael Nuzzolo have led the way with four goals apiece, and both played significant roles the last time these teams met. The former scored four across the last two wins against Udinese, with a hat-trick in the first, and the latter provided plenty of threat against Liverpool in Switzerland along with fellow winger Gonzalo Zarate. There don't appear to be any injuries in manager Martin Rueda's side, with as close to full-strength as possible likely to be fielded.
Wisdom Carragher Coates Enrique
Suso Suarez Assaidi
There's only good news on the horizon as far as fitness goes for Liverpool, with Lucas planning to take part in a reserves match on Friday and both Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini working their way back. There don't appear to be any new injuries for Brendan Rodgers to contend with, although the questions about Oussama Assaidi's health (or favor) linger.
Brad Jones' cover was both needed and fairly successful, but now that Pepe Reina's back in the fold it doesn't look as though Jones will continue to feature. And there'll probably be a mixture at the back of regulars and backups, with Jamie Carragher likely to start and few likely fullback options beyond Glen Johnson, Andre Wisdom, and Jose Enrique. I'll guess that Wisdom starts on the right with Carragher and Sebastian Coates in the middle and Enrique left. Some variant with Daniel Agger and/or Martin Skrtel wouldn't surprise, and neither would involvement for Johnson.
Through the midfield a starting role for Jordan Henderson looks to be a certainty, as does time for Nuri Sahin after the Turkish international didn't get any time against Wigan. Rodgers picked out Steven Gerrard by name in noting the likely strength of his squad for tomorrow night, but I'd be more in favor or a substitute role for the captain with a start probable on Sunday as well. Like Sahin, I expect Jonjo Shelvey to get minutes after falling down the pecking order over the last month, and Joe Allen might have a part to play as well.
Across the front there are far fewer options, with Luis Suarez the only viable option in the striker's role and two of Assaidi, Raheem Sterling, Suso, and Stewart Downing on the flanks. Sterling needs rest and Downing's on the way out, and as long as Assaidi is fit he needs time. Shelvey or Gerrard could push up to a flank, leaving Suso with another chance at the number ten role, but a start on the right flank might be in the cards again.
Plenty of ways to watch tomorrow after Saturday's match proved a struggle, with Fox Soccer Channel airing the match live in the US and ITV4 carrying coverage in the UK. Kickoff is set for 8:05PM GMT/3:05PM EST, which is right in the wheelhouse for those stateside celebrating Thanksgiving. We'll have coverage as usual, though, with the overnight threads and matchday post leading up to the opening whistle.
Hope you all have a nice holiday if you're in the States, and that those elsewhere have had a good start to the week that can continue with a Liverpool win tomorrow.