The long week off finally comes to an end for Liverpool, who are away to relegation-threatened Wigan on Saturday night.
After such a busy fall and start to the new year, a schedule that has only Premier League matches on it is going to take some getting used to--the loss on away goals to Zenit last week means that any chance at silverware's gone, but it also means that the fixture list is going to be far less crowded for Liverpool the rest of the way. Their shortest break will be six days, and with two weeks off this month for World Cup qualifying, it's going to be slim pickings.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Liverpool's squad still doesn't have the type of depth that could see them compete on multiple fronts without concerns about form or fatigue. The internationals are always miserably worrying, but otherwise it's a chance for Liverpool to try to finish strong with a squad that will have a chance to recharge before every appearance.
We'll get a look at how much or how little that's of benefit tomorrow, as Liverpool will have had a full eight days off since the 3-1 win in last Thursday's second leg. And while their hosts are still active in both league and the FA Cup, Wigan have had a full week as well after their resounding 3-0 win away to Reading last Saturday. It was their second consecutive win and their first in league in 2013, and they'll have to grasp onto any momentum they can gather to start to gather enough points to push themselves away from the relegation zone, which they're currently avoiding on goal difference only.
Roberto Martinez--who many thought would be the next Liverpool manager after Kenny Dalglish was dismissed--will have the chance to pick Antolin Alcaraz in the eleven for the first time in six months after he made his return as a substitute last weekend, but he'll have to wait on Ben Watson and Ryo Myachi. Martinez has been consistent in his squad selection this season, with Ali Al-Habsi and James McCarthy starting every match in goal and the midfield, respectively. Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa have featured most regularly at the back, and Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour aren't too far behind McCarthy in terms of appearances in the midfield. Arouna Kone and (hopefully not) Liverpool target Franco DiSanto are likely to round off the eleven in attack, with Kone on a bit of a hot streak with a brace apiece against Huddersfield and Reading.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Henderson Coutinho
The only concern over fitness the past week is a big one--Daniel Sturridge picked up a knock and is a doubt, leaving Luis Suarez again on his own up top. Martin Kelly's hopeful getting closer to training, but we're not going to see either him or Fabio Borini before the season's up.
Nothing to change in defense, where Jamie Carragher's ensured that he'll be playing out his farewell tour on the pitch rather than the bench. His error against Zenit aside, there's an argument to be made that he's been Liverpool's most consistent center-half, and he'll likely continue to partner Daniel Agger until fitness or form dictates otherwise. Nobody left to challenge Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique in the fullback roles, and Pepe Reina's similarly comfortable in goal after steadily improving of late.
If Sturridge is out that makes room for one more midfielder; we can assume that Philippe Coutinho will start again on the left, and against Swansea that crowded Jordan Henderson out of the eleven. But with Sturridge injured, Suarez will push further forward, which ostensibly leaves space for an attacking midfielder rather than the Uruguayan dropping deeper. It should be Henderson in front of Steven Gerrard and Lucas, although Joe Allen's positive performance against Zenit could signal a return for a player that's got the benefit of his manager's preference.
Regardless of the third midfielder, I'm fairly confident that it'll be Coutinho, Suarez, and Stewart Downing as the rest of the front four. Suarez is a given, as is Downing at this point, and the Brazilian looks to be a lock with Raheem Sterling and Suso dropping down to the U21s and Oussama Assaidi destined for time off the bench at most. Interesting to see how Assaidi is used by Rodgers the rest of the way, and while he was solid for the half-hour he got last Thursday, there's no reason to think that'll segue into a starting role.
Kickoff is a bit later on, with the start time set for 5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST. ESPN will have the match live in the UK, and Fox Soccer Channel has coverage in the US. We'll have all the usual info in the matchday thread early tomorrow, with any other news running alongside our stream leading up to kickoff. As usual, you can join us around here or over on Twitter during the match, which'll hopefully start the weekend off on the right foot.