Liverpool visit Italy on the final day of the Europa League group stage with qualification on the line, as Brendan Rodgers' squad will need to better Young Boys' result in order to advance to the knockout stage.
It's nice that there's an actual must-win in the midst of the pseudo must-wins, even if it's not quite to the level of absolutely have to win at any cost. But the formula is quite simple--if Liverpool wins they're through, if they don't they're not. The gray area is what happens in the event of a draw, in which case they have to hope for favors in the group's other match between Anzhi and Young Boys. Having their European fate in someone else's hands is unsettling, although Liverpool haven't exactly been impressive when their fate is in their own hands.
To have an important-seeming match is exciting nonetheless, and while this all could have been avoided had Liverpool not lost the lead twice against Young Boys at Anfield, it'll be interesting to see how Brendan Rodgers' squad reacts in a match with some gravity attached to it. It might be lessened a bit by the fact that there's no mathematical way for Udinese to advance--I think, but numbers and facts aren't always reliable--but that's somewhat counteracted by the squad that Rodgers has taken, which is littered with regular first-teamers and headlined by Luis Suarez, who's freed up to play in his first away fixture on the continent by a domestic ban at the weekend.
That squad will face an Udinese side that has done little to impress since their early second-half barrage two month ago saw them leave Merseyside with all three points. They've lost three in a row, first away to Young Boys, then at home to the same side, and most recently in Russia where Anzhi eased to a 2-0 victory. Form in league hasn't exactly been overwhelming, with Sunday's win over Cagliari their first since defeating Roma at the end of October.
Francesco Guidolin has a number of absences tomorrow, with each of Andrea Coda, Maurizio Domizzi, Dusan Basta, Andrea Lazzari and Luis Muriel left out of the squad through injury. They will have Mehdi Benatia and Giampiero Pinzi back, though, along with the eternally impressive Antonio Di Natale, and Guidolin can choose a strong squad with a long weekend to recover before facing Sampdoria on Monday.
Wisdom Skrtel Carragher Johnson
Suso Suarez Assaidi
A handful of regulars were left out, including the now-recovered Lucas, Daniel Agger, and Steven Gerrard. None appear to have been omitted because of injury, though, leaving Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly as the only fitness concerns. All parties involved seemed to make it through Saturday's win over Southampton unscathed, with the only casualty the aforementioned Luis Suarez, who will have to sit out Sunday's trip to West Ham.
Brad Jones' time in the spotlight seems to be well and truly at an end, and Pepe Reina will likely start with a view to continuing what's been a relative uptick in his form. Still shakier than we'd like, but that'll hopefully be buoyed by three clean sheets in his last five starts. Martin Skrtel traveling seems to indicate that he'll play, leaving either Jamie Carragher or Sebastian Coates as the odd man out. Andre Wisdom is back in the squad and has a chance to return, but with Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique along as well we might see something very close to the back four we saw on the weekend.
Whether or not Nuri Sahin plays is anyone's guess; we saw him in the draw with Young Boys a few weeks ago, but his stock has dropped dramatically since coming off against Chelsea, and Rodgers might prefer to partner Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen behind Jonjo Shelvey. I'll guess the Turkish midfielder gets the start with Henderson with Shelvey further forward, although "resting" and "Joe Allen" aren't exactly a match made in heaven.
The inclusion of Suarez and his lack of availability for this coming Sunday guarantees that he'll play (barring any fitness issues), leaving the only uncertainty to who'll flank him. I'm going with Suso and Oussama Assaidi, but any of Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique, Joe Cole, and/or Raheem Sterling could start as well. Two of those need rest, though, and the other two need to be left in Italy.
Tomorrow's kickoff is a bit earlier, with start time set for 6:00PM GMT/1:00PM EST. The usual carriers will have coverage, with ITV4 airing the match live in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel showing it in the US. Overnight thread and matchday post will run at the normal times, with team sheets for both sides included about an hour or so before kickoff.
Hopefully you'll be around for the match, and regardless of how you feel about the Europa League, I think we can all hope that at minimum Liverpool manage to continue their recent improvements and do enough to secure progress.