Liverpool head back out on the road, this time visiting the West Midlands and Roy Hodgson's West Bromwich Albion side. Last season this fixture had an uncomfortable build-up and an even more awkward outcome, and thankfully the lead-in to this season's meeting hasn't had nearly the same sentiment. Hodgson's side are unbeaten since their third-round exit in the League Cup, drawing twice and winning their last two matches, while Liverpool are coming off a surprisingly emotional victory midweek at Stoke after successive 1-1 draws in league.
It's probably never going to be an awkward-free encounter when Liverpool meets a side led by Roy Hodgson, whether they're in England, Italy, Spain, France, or Liechtenstein. He's always going to remind Liverpool supporters of one of the worst times in the club's recent history, and he's always going to feel like he wasn't given a fair shake and that he was the victim of a witch hunt by vindictive supporters and a squad that never bought into his historically mediocre but somehow marketable methods.
But it's fair to neither Liverpool nor Hodgson to keep dragging the saga through the mud, even if we're finally able to do it without needing to have someone take away our belt and shoelaces. And unlike his time at Liverpool, Hodgson's tenure at West Brom has mostly been a success, guiding them to an 11th place finish last season after arriving and getting the aforementioned 2-1 win over Liverpool in this fixture last season.
So far this season it's been the status quo, with the club situated 12th in league and playing a number of closely-contested matches. After losing four of their first five league matches they've earned eight points from the last four, and Hodgson has relied on a fairly consistent eleven throughout the campaign. Shane Long has been an excellent addition and started every match this season, but he came out of the Villa match injured and will miss six weeks, and there's also fitness concerns for Zoltan Gera, Graham Dorrans, Paul Scharner, and Jerome Thomas. Hodgson's called on Ben Foster, Jonas Olsson, Steven Reid, and Youssus Mulumbu to start in each league match, and Chris Brunt, Nicky Shorey, James Morrison, and Peter Odemwingie will likely have a part to play tomorrow as well.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Gerrard Bellamy
---Once again, there's little news about fitness concerns, with the late knock to Luis Suarez and the injury to Jamie Carragher seeming to be the only topics worth any sort of discussion. Both Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarked talked about the insignificance of the injury to Suarez, though, so there's no reason to think he'll be missing tomorrow. Less is known about Carragher, but we can be sure that he'll feature if he's fit. **Edit: Had written this prior to this morning's news, so we'll see. Still banking on a start for Suarez, but maybe this makes Carroll's involvement more likely.**
---Hopefully tomorrow sees Daniel Agger return to central defense after his brief stint on the left at Stoke; he was more than serviceable and got forward well, but I don't think anyone's under the illusion that he's got a future out wide. It's likely that Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique make their returns on the right and left respectively, and unless Jamie Carragher's substitution was solely precautionary, I'd imagine that Martin Skrtel partners Agger centrally.
---Jay Spearing's performance on Wednesday was terrific, and it would be fantastic to see him pair with Lucas again tomorrow. They both work their asses off, and while Spearing offers little in terms of flair, he's one of the squad's more committed players. As is the case with Maxi, though, it's doubtful that the midweek performance translates to a start in league, and it wouldn't be surprising to have Charlie Adam back alongside Lucas. The combination of Maxi's quality performance and rest for Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing, and Craig Bellamy makes it tougher to guess who'll flank Steven Gerrard, so I'll go with Kuyt on the right and Bellamy left.
---There's been a bit of a split on Andy Carroll's play midweek, and I fall firmly in the camp of those who were both impressed and encouraged by his work up front. Whether or not that means a start tomorrow is another thing, and if Dalglish chooses to pack the midfield, it's not likely that he'll get a start. I think it's deserved, but I'm not sure that it'll happen tomorrow.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
The two goals from Luis Suarez on Wednesday---away from home, in a comeback effort---seemed to symbolize some sort of exorcism of the club's recent struggles, and tomorrow's match is the perfect litmus test for whether or not that's the case. Again on the road, again against a side with a more conservative style of play, and again in a match in which you'd expect them to win so long as they take the chances they manage to create. No doubts that Wednesday was cathartic, but it doesn't mean as much if it's not followed up.
Nice to get back to a match that's going to be much easier to watch, with ESPN televising the match in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel carrying coverage stateside. That typically means there's also more streams available for those of you without television access, so check the matchday thread late tonight or ahead of kickoff tomorrow to find a way to watch. Team sheets will run around an hour before the match, and you can catch up with us in the comments or over on Twitter throughout the day.
Hope you all have a nice end to the week, and let's hope for something to celebrate tomorrow.