There isn't a whole lot to add to the build-up for tomorrow's match that we haven't discussed already. At some point our outside hopes of a top four finish turned into outside hopes of a title challenge, which subsequently turned into Liverpool controlling their own destiny in said title challenge. And now, on the eve of Manchester City's visit to Anfield, there's actual, real-deal belief that Liverpool can actually pull this thing off. It'll take some doing, potentially needing to finish the season on a 14-match winning streak.
City's early season struggles away from the Etihad have mostly subsided, though draws in two of their last three--first at Norwich, then at Arsenal after a 2-0 win at Hull--suggest that they've not quite turned the corner in terms of hitting consistent form on the road. They're miles away from Cardiff and Villa, however, and with two games in hand and four of their last seven to play at home, anything other than a loss tomorrow would suit their title challenge.
Manuel Pellegrini will have Sergio Aguero back from injury after the striker missed City's last five matches with a hamstring injury, adding to the Chilean's options going forward. Last weekend against Southampton he went with Joe Hart in goal, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, and Aleksander Kolarov at the back, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho in central midfield, with Samir Nasri, David Silva, and Jesus Navas behind Edin Dzeko up top. If Aguero returns he could resume his partnership with Alvaro Negredo, who came off the bench last Saturday along with Javi Garcia and Stevan Jovetic.
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Suarez Sturridge Sterling
With Daniel Agger back in full training after a brief spell out due to a knee injury and Joe Allen healthy, Brendan Rodgers once again has a largely healthy squad at his disposal. Somehow I missed this last week (HT to ayoslime yesterday for the tip), but Rodgers confirmed that Jose Enrique will miss the rest of the season as he continues his extended recovery from surgery to repair his knee.
The shift we saw in Sunday's win at West Ham--Lucas on in the second half for Philippe Coutinho with a shift to the 4-4-2 diamond--might cause a few more questions than usual, but I'm still of the mind that Rodgers goes with what he knows in a big match at Anfield. That doesn't include Allen, Lucas, or a midfield diamond. It includes lots of noise, lots of pressure, and, ideally, lots of goals.
We know the template by now, and the personnel should largely be the same. If there is a change from their last impressive home victory, it'll be Mamadou Sakho partnering Martin Skrtel in central defense; the Frenchman showed few signs of rust when given his first start since December against West Ham, and while there's an equally compelling case to be made for Agger, I wouldn't be surprised to see Rodgers stick with the most recent partnership. Neither would be disappointing, however.
The front six is where things are settled, with Steven Gerrard continuing in his role as deep-lying playmaker and Coutinho joining Jordan Henderson in central midfield to provide energy and pressing. Assuming starts for Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, City's midfield will be the toughest test to date for Liverpool's trio, and might demand a change in shape at some point.
Whether or not any changes or needed will also depend on the efficacy of Liverpool's front three; Raheem Sterling will no doubt join Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in providing the attacking impetus, and it would be awfully nice for all three to find top gear yet again. Sturridge was unusually wasteful at Upton Park, and while Suarez and Sterling did plenty to threaten, more cutting edge will be needed tomorrow if Liverpool are going to have the edge.
Kickoff is set for 1:37PM BST/8:37AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra airing the match live in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.