What started as an opportunity to give the kids a chance has now turned into an opportunity to give the kids a rest--Liverpool will still line up with a younger/fringe eleven tomorrow, but with Raheem Sterling, Suso, and Andre Wisdom each proving their worth in the first team over the past few weeks, it's likely that we'll be waiting until Sunday to see them again, with a number of other faces cycled in as Liverpool continue their Europa League campaign.
Questions about whether or not they'd be taking cup competiton seriously have fallen by the wayside after victories in Switzerland and the West Midlands; the youth and squad players have shown that they're capable of competing, and as noted, some to the point that they're now likely to be a part of the regular first-team setup. Whether or not a competition's taken seriously isn't so much a matter of personnel as it is approach, and so far Liverpool's approach in all competitions has been superb.
At least on the surface they'll face their toughest test to date tomorrow, with Udinese visiting in a stretch that's seen them go unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, albeit four of which were draws. That's improvement given where they started the season, though, with losses in two of their first three in Serie A and dropping out of the Champions League on penalties--with a failed panenka from Maicosuel proving the difference--after a pair of 1-1 draws with Braga.
Their recent run's included a 1-1 draw with Anzhi Makhachkala and a 2-1 home win over Milan, although their last two times out have been consecutive scoreless draws, first away to Torino and most recently at the Stade Friuli against Genoa on Sunday. With a trip to Napoli on tap for Sunday, manager Francesco Guidolin might shake things up a bit despite having a full-strength squad; Antonio Di Natale got the equalizer against Anzhi in a substitute appearance and hasn't played since the win over Milan but might be rested for the weekend, and Daniele Padelli, who appeared once for Liverpool on loan, will likely start in goal.
Johnson Carragher Coates Robinson
Downing Borini Assaidi
Among tomorrow's absentees is Jose Enrique, whom Brendan Rodgers mentioned is back in training but possibly unavailable. Martin Kelly and Lucas, both longer-term injury worries, are obviously out, and if we're counting Joe Cole as a thing now, he's probably out too. I'd guess there'll be a few of the first-team regulars left out, but hopefully that's a product of resting for the weekend rather than injury.
If we're subscribing to bib theory, tomorrow's team sheet isn't so much a guessing game as it is digging for more pictures of players wearing white bibs. Pointed out by Nate over on Twitter, there's a handful of names you'd expect to rest wearing the darker colored bibs, with those you'd guess to feature tomorrow in the whites. The only drama, then, is in goal, where it's anyone's guess as to whether it's Pepe Reina, Brad Jones, or, the dark horse favorite, Peter Gulacsi.
The back line makes sense, even if it makes for busy week for Glen Johnson. With Jack Robinson apparently set to play, that leaves no room for Jose Enrique, shifting Johnson back to the right for the first time in awhile. Jamie Carragher and Sebastian Coates were the only pairing likely in the middle, with Daniel Agger fit but in need of more recovery time, and Martin Skrtel likely spared for the weekend.
Joe Allen makes sense in central midfield given the fitness of the other two possibilities--Steven Gerrard won't make too many appearances on short rest this season, and even though Saturday to Thursday is a decently-long break, Thursday to Sunday isn't, and he's a nailed-on starter in Premier League matches. Nuri Şahin is in a bit better spot, but he's not ready for four matches in two weeks, and he's a given for Stoke's visit. That leaves Allen to join Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson, with the former still banned domestically and the latter continuing to make an influence when given the opportunity.
Fabio Borini seems fit and ready to make his return, and he'll likely do so with Oussama Assaidi and Stewart Downing on either side. Downing was poor against West Brom and doesn't necessarily deserve a spot, but with few other wide options available he'll continue to get starts. Dani Pacheco and Adam Morgan could be included in the squad and get minutes at some point, and late substitute appearances for any of Luis Suarez, Suso, or Raheem Sterling wouldn't be surprising.
As highlighted above, Liverpool have been able to be successful to this point not on the strength of a particularly deep squad, but by having a solid approach and resiliency that has been uncommon over the past few seasons. In each of their victories they've faced adversity--Hearts leveled the tie at Anfield before Luis Suarez won it late, Young Boys took the lead in the second half before Liverpool stormed back, and at West Brom an early howler was overcome with a very good team performance. We can expect some sort of adversity tomorrow, so it probably won't be about finding a way to ease to victory, rather how the squad can come together and continue to show the type of fight that's been so encouraging over the past few weeks.
Tomorrow night's kickoff is set for the more standard (or at least later) 8:05PM BST/3:05PM EST, with ITV4 airing the match live in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel carrying live coverage as well in the US. Team sheets are released around an hour before kickoff and will be included in the matchday thread, which will be posted a few hours or so ahead of the start time.
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