It's back to Europe for Liverpool on the front end of a busy stretch, with the trip to Switzerland to face Young Boys opening up a stretch of three matches in six days. We're promised a very different Liverpool squad from the one we saw against Sunderland, and while there'll be some growing pains associated, it's an exciting (and slightly anxiety-inducing) prospect. And wherever the Europa League falls on Liverpool's list of priorities, a result tomorrow would be a step in the right direction.
Periods of the season that we view as defining in some capacity typically don't arrive this early in the year, and while it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say this next month will define how the rest of the campaign goes, we're certainly going to learn a lot about this squad and its personnel from now until the next international break arrives. They host Stoke City on October 7th, and until then they'll take part in three competitions, playing six matches. Nine points in league, progress in the League Cup, and one-third of their Europa League group matches will be on the line, making these next few weeks a critical timed for Brendan Rodgers and company.
It's not all terror and doom, though, particularly if you're interested in the longer-term project for which Rodgers seems to be laying the groundwork. The summer window accelerated the project's implementation, which means that we'll get a chance to see some of the club's more promising younger players in meaningful action sooner rather than later. They'll make the types of frustrating errors you'd expect from teenagers and fringe players, but they'll also be fighting for their place in the club's future, which can only be positive moving forward.
And they'll being doing it against very different types of opposition, both in the domestic cups and on the continent. Udinese and Anzhi ostensibly promise more talent in their respective squads, but Young Boys will be a test in their own right, especially in front of their home supporters. They conceded two in the final qualifying round against Danish side Midtjylland, but that was only after notching three in the first leg in Denmark. To that point they hadn't conceded in Berne in the first two rounds (even though they'd lost the away fixture in both ties), and domestically they've only allowed one in their last three while scoring seven.
Manager Martin Ruedaloss made a number of changes in the loss to Midtjylland after such a comprehensive victory in the first leg, and tomorrow he'll be without defender Alain Nef, who received a red card in the second half of that loss. Raúl Bobadilla leads the squad with two goals in Europe, with a handful of other players scoring a goal apiece. A number of players besides Nef have featured regularly in the competition, including Christian Schneuwly, Alexander Farnerud, Christoph Spycher, Juhani Ojala, and goalkeeper Marco Wolfli, all of whom should be available tomorrow.
Flanagan Coates Carragher Enrique
Downing Morgan Assaidi
The club announced a young traveling squad for tomorrow's match, with a number of players not seen in the senior squad since the US tour--Suso, Andre Wisdom, Dani Pacheco, and Peter Gulacsi--included. They didn't list the older players that had been omitted, but outlets yesterday were reporting that Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, and Luis Suarez were left out; there's sixteen names listed in the link above, so there's room for a few more.
The additional names will prove most important on the back and front ends, with Jamie Carragher and Sebastian Coates near-locks to start, but uncertainty about what fullbacks will be included. Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly, Daniel Agger, and Martin Skrtel were all left out of the squad's announcement (and are in the Echo's list of omitted players), so my guess is that Flanagan and Enrique start, with the latter in need of match action and hopefully fit enough to take part. There's also the possibility that Jack Robinson will play, however, and we could very well see Stewart Downing making his first start for Liverpool at left-back.
There's got to be a game for Jordan Henderson at some point, and it seems safe enough to bank on him playing two of Liverpool's next three matches--just not against United on Sunday. I've been pining to see more of him, and while he'll likely be rusty, the fixture congestion should allow for him to get back up to speed. Who he'll play with is unclear, with Nuri Şahin a strong possibility and Jonjo Shelvey also in the mix. Only one of those two will play Sunday, though, and we could see them split halves or be rested completely. A start for Suso in a more advanced role probably isn't likely, but whatever. He's been with the senior squad in training for a week now and might as well get some time.
Adam Morgan's already made a Europa League start and seems to be line for another, and there's a pot of about five other names that could be involved. Tempting to throw Samed Yesil straight into the mix; that feels like too much too soon, though, and it's far more likely that we'll get two of Stewart Downing, Oussama Assaidi, Jonjo Shelvey, or Dani Pacheco. Of those I'm most invested in Assaidi getting significant minutes, and Downing on the opposite flank wouldn't be surprising.
Whoever's involved, I'm not expecting a performance entirely different than what we saw in the last round against Hearts--moments of fluidity and encouragement, but on the whole a fairly choppy and cautious performance. The personnel involved likely won't allow for much more, as we're looking at an eleven that possibly won't involve anybody that's taken part in a competitive senior match in over three weeks. That doesn't need to impact work rate or commitment, but it will inform how effective they'll be. As always in Europe, though, a result is a result, and if they can scrape a point or more, it'll be a success.
Tomorrow's start time is a strange one, with kickoff set for 6:00PM BST/1:00PM EST. An earlier time does mean space for Fox Soccer Channel to run it live in the US, and ITV4 will be carrying coverage in the UK. We'll re-run the viewing options early tomorrow in the matchday thread, and the team sheets will be posted as close to their release time as possible. As always, we'll be around in the comments section and on Twitter, so feel free to catch up with us either place.