Liverpool travel to Oldham in the fourth round of the FA Cup, looking to progress in the competition as well as to launch themselves into a challenging week with a bit of momentum.
After the last few months were so busy, it's seemed an unnaturally long time since we've seen Liverpool play. There's always the risk/reward with a longer break--Liverpool tore Norwich apart and had won 7 of their last 10, and with the way most of 2012 went, that qualifies as a very solid run of form, so the somewhat extended interruption has the potential to dull the edge they'd developed. With Arsenal and City on tap in the next seven days, we're left to hope that isn't the case, and the only effect of the rest is a positive one.
It all is a bit tricky, though, with the fixture list conspiring to make things more than a little awkward. The 5-0 win at Anfield will be eight days old by kickoff tomorrow, and there's only two full days between tomorrow and the trip to the Emirates. Liverpool journey to Manchester next Sunday to round the week off, and there's no doubt Brendan Rodgers will have a tricky task in choosing who to rest and who to keep fresh.
Whoever it is, they'll an Oldham side that's struggling mightily in League One but somehow managed to upend Nottingham Forest in the third round. Their trip to the City Ground came on the end of a five-match winless streak, and since that time they've only gone on to lose their next three. They came back impressively against Forest, though, and combined with the magic of the Cup and all that, their league form isn't necessarily too relevant.
Former Premier League crook Paul Dickov has been in charge at Oldham since 2010, guiding the team to bottom-half finishes in each of the two full seasons he's had as manager. He's got former Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis as a mainstay, and Jose Baxter, who scored the third in the win over Forest, leads the team with nine goals in League One. Jean Mves Mvoto Owono, Lee Croft, and Jonathan Croft have started 28 of the 29 league matches and started in the win over Nottingham Forest, and Robbie Simpson, who scored at Anfield last season in the 5-1 loss in the third round, scored Oldham's first two in this year's third round.
Wisdom Skrtel Coates Robinson
Sterling Sturridge Suarez
Most notable from Brendan Rodgers' pre-match presser yesterday was the news that Glen Johnson has a slight hamstring problem, and if there's any questions about his fitness he should be left out completely. Jose Enrique and Pepe Reina are close but not quite there, and Martin Kelly remains the only long-term injury.
Injuries to Reina, Enrique, and Johnson leave Brad Jones, Jack Robinson, and Andre Wisdom in line for starts at goalkeeper and in the fullback spots, respectively, and unless a loan deal is settled in the next twenty-four hours, I'd guess that Sebastian Coates finally gets another start. It'll be interesting to see who it's alongside, as Jamie Carragher nudged past Martin Skrtel in the pecking order last weekend, which would seem to leave the Slovakian in line for a start here.
Both midfield and attack are uncertain quantities given the timing of the fixtures; sharpness is required after eight days off for the regulars, but with Arsenal looming on Wednesday, Rodgers can't afford tired legs. Joe Allen seem like the only sure thing, and while Jonjo Shelvey is hopeful of a spot, I'll pick Lucas and Jordan Henderson for the other two spots. Don't know that Steven Gerrard makes the eleven, but I'd guess that he makes the bench for minutes later on.
What's most confounding is what'll happen up top, with Fabio Borini back, Luis Suarez likely to play, and Daniel Sturridge probable for Arsenal. It's possible that all three start, and hopefully the match is settled enough for early substitutions. Stewart Downing, Raheem Sterling, and Suso are all in the running as well, and this might be a nice time for Sterling to get significant minutes after falling out of the regular eleven.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, and match coverage will be carried live on ITV1 in the UK and on Fox Soccer Channel in the US. The open thread and matchday thread will run as usual, with team sheets posted when they're released around an hour or so before kickoff. Given the ongoing rumors about transfers that may or may not ever happen, it's possible that normal service gets interrupted a bit, but we'll have anything noteworthy running parallel to the match coverage.
Hope you'll be around with us to wrap up the weekend, and that we're able to head into the week with Liverpool onto the fifth round.