Brendan Rodgers faces his old club for the third time this season tomorrow at Anfield, with his new club in desperate need of something positive after a difficult week.
Hey, remember this?
As has often--and unfortunately--been the case over the past few seasons, Liverpool have a chance to erase the sour taste from a bad result with another match just days later. And, depending on how tomorrow goes, they might be in the same boat when they welcome Swansea to Anfield on Sunday.
That was from Wednesday, which qualifies me as something of a clairvoyant. Or just someone who's watched Liverpool more than once or twice. Either way, tomorrow now becomes far more urgent--not to save the chances at fourth, not to spare Brendan Rodgers' blushes, not because it'll be season-defining in any way. Tomorrow's urgent because losing three times in one week would be awfully miserable, and that makes this whole supporting thing a tough sell.
It's not as though Liverpool have been completely awful, and arguments that they deserved more aren't entirely misplaced. Both matches saw Rodgers' squad piece together positive spells, but in the end deserving something from both matches counted for little, and twin 2-0 scorelines leave Liverpool hanging by a thread in the Europa League and further towards the middle of the Premier League table.
A win tomorrow could see them temporarily move within a few points of their neighbors, though, as they'd jump past both West Brom and Swansea City to sit just three points back of Everton. On away form it's not too absurd a scenario--they comprehensively dominated QPR last weekend at home en route to a 4-1 win, but Swansea have only scored two goals outside of Wales in the new year, both of which came as a direct result of Branislav Ivanovic errors in the League Cup first leg at Stamford Bridge.
Their body of work has been impressive this season regardless, and while Michael Laudrup will be without Chico Flores--who ruptured ankle ligaments against QPR--he should have the rest of his squad ready to go. With a full week before the League Cup final he should be able to select a full-strength side. That'll mean Michu leading from the front, some constellation of Leon Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jonathan de Guzman, and Kemy Agustien in central midfield, Nathan Dyer and Pablo Hernandez on the wings, and Michel Vorm, Ashley Williams, Angel Rangel, and Ben Davies rounding off a defense that'll add Garry Monk or Kyle Bartley in place of Flores.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Downing Coutinho Henderson
It was basically all systems go at Zenit on Thursday, making fitness--or at least lack of rest--a major concern ahead of tomrrow's match. Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique,and Pepe Reina have all played over 180 minutes since Monday, and while none of them incurred any actual injuries, all have to be fatigued. Some will have to play, I'd assume, so let's just hope that additional minutes don't lead to them joining Martin Kelly on the injury list.
The obvious changes at the back would be Andre Wisdom for Johnson or Enrique and Martin Skrtel in for Carragher. I think the latter will happen but I'm not sold on the former; both fullbacks were better in Russia than they were at Anfield on Monday, and while neither has the cleanest fitness record, they should be available. Skrtel was improved against Zenit, and with Carragher unlikely to play three matches in six days, the Slovakian has to feature alongside Daniel Agger.
I'm hopeful that the Steven Gerrard plays every Premier League minute because...because he does charade ends tomorrow. He's been average in both matches this week, but like Carragher, three is too much, and there won't be any better time to end the empty gesture than in the third match of a long week. It's never going to happen, of course, but we could at least hope. If he is out, Joe Allen could slide in, and Jordan Henderson can continue to play tucked in on the left side of the midfield.
Luis Suarez has been in need of rest since at least the Manchester City match, and with Daniel Sturridge returning, he should start on the bench. The biggest question is which of Stewart Downing, Philippe Coutinho, Fabio Borini, or Raheem Sterling is included--Downing seems the easy choice after impressing over the past month, but each of the other three names mentioned could add a bit of dynamism to an attack that will be lacking if Suarez is rested.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 3:00PM GM/10:00AM EST, with Fox Soccer Plus airing the match live in the United States. There's a free trial of Plus going on DirecTV, so even if you don't pay extra for the channel it should be accessible through tomorrow. No listings are set in the UK as of yet, but viewing options will likely come available as the start time nears. Anything legal will be included in the matchday thread, which will also have the team sheets around an hour or so before kickoff.