Post-international break matches are always a welcomed sight, and while we had to wait a bit longer than everyone else, it's nice for Liverpool to settle back in for the next few weeks before we have to do it all again. That nearly everyone in the squad made it through unscathed sweetens the pot, even if Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson were overplayed by Roy Hodgson and Samed Yesil is reportedly down with a ruptured ACL grumblegrumblegrumble.
It's an interesting week for Liverpool, though, with home fixtures providing the bookends for the first leg of the Europa League knockout stages against Zenit. Questions about the squad's fitness and lack of eligibility for a few players will weigh heavily on Brendan Rodgers' decision-making, and while we all know that the league will (and should) be top priority, it'd be nice to see Liverpool experience success on a more consistent basis in both of the competitions they have left.
They can't look past tomorrow, of course, even if Steve Clarke's West Brom are in the midst of their worst run of the season. For much of the fall they were in or around the top four, building off the opening day victory over Liverpool and claiming a number of wins both at home and on the road. It started to fray at the edges in late November, though, and they're now winless since getting all three points on Boxing Day at QPR.
Clarke has also had to deal with two of the higher-profile news pieces over the past few weeks, which you wouldn't necessarily expect from the Midlands club. First Peter Odemwingie--who apparently might feature tomorrow, against all odds--drove himself to QPR when a transfer was supposed to go through and then did an interview about said transfer, even though the transfer didn't actually happen. Then Goran Popov goes and spits at Kyle Walker last weekend, leaving him banned for three matches and his manager in the place of having to explain just what the actual hell is going on.
As you'd expect, Clarke handled both incidents in an understated and straightforward manner, and while you don't hope he experiences any success tomorrow, it's hard to not be pulling for him in the long run. Popov and potentially Odemwingie miss out along with George Thorne and Zoltan Gera, both of whom suffered long-term injuries. Shane Long and Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku started together against Tottenham, with James Morrison further back in the midfield joining Graham Dorrans, Chris Brunt, and Claudio Yacob. The occasionally error-prone Ben Foster will start in goal behind a defense that'll likely consist of Billy Jones, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley, and Liam Ridgewell.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Suarez Henderson
A few more uncertainties than usual, mostly due to the revelation that Raheem Sterling has been injured rather than unfavored and Daniel Sturridge's injury against Manchester City might be enough to keep him out. I'd guess that Philippe Coutinho is included in the squad despite his lingering fitness concerns, leaving Martin Kelly as the only confirmed absence.
Unless there's any surprises injury-wise, the back line should be the same one that faced City seven days ago. The Jamie Carragher Farewell Tour isn't just a feel-good at this point, as he was very good at the Eastlands and largely continued the solid form he showed against Norwich and Arsenal. The other three are standard issue at this point, although there's always the odd chance that Andre Wisdom comes in at right-back and Jose Enrique pushes forward. With more depth up front, though, the days of that experiment seem to be over.
As with most of the defense, the midfield picks itself, and likely in the same format that we've seen against City and Norwich. That means Lucas and Steven Gerrard more centrally with Jordan Henderson tucked in the left. It's been a terrifically effective combination for all three, and with Lucas coming back into a version of his former self, they're only going to get better.
Stewart Downing, Luis Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge have been stable as the other three names to round out the eleven, but the addition of Philippe Coutinho and returns of Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling from injury seem to have those days numbered. If Sturridge isn't available it looks like Borini is the most likely, and hopefully both Coutinho and Sterling get a chance off the bench.
Late kickoff tomorrow, with the start time set for 8:00PM GMT/3:00PM EST. Sky Sports 1 will have the match live in the UK, and ESPN2/ESPN3.com will air it in the US. We'll have team sheets included in the matchday thread around an hour or so before kickoff, and the usual post will run parallel with any other news leading up to the match. Hope you're around to join us throughout, and that the week kicks off with Liverpool earning all three points and a bit of momentum before they head to Russia.