Liverpool visit Craven Cottage tomorrow and a Fulham side that's struggled to piece together any sort of positive results domestically, winning only twice thus far on the season. They've got nearly identical records home and away, with their first and only win at home coming in early October. Liverpool's been impressive of late and largely successful away from Anfield, winning six straight in all competitions as the visitors.
The few Monday matches Liverpool plays each season make for long weekends, particularly when everyone we hate does well earlier in the weekend. A run of eight unbeaten in league and eleven overall makes that wait even longer, as I think we'd all prefer to see Liverpool playing as often as possible. As long as, you know, they don't have any season-ending injuries occurring along the way. Drink up.
So maybe it's nice that on the front end of a packed month of December, Liverpool visit a club that's only two points above the drop zone. Or that's terrible news, given the problems Kenny Dalglish's side has had with the sides that they should be taking all three points from. Either way, it hasn't exactly been a smashing return to the Premier League for Martin Jol, who replaced Mark Hughes after an eighth-place finish last season.
It hasn't been quite as bad in the Europa League, where they currently sit second in their group and have a great chance to qualify for the knockout stages, finishing group play with a home against bottom side Odense. And despite the lack of victories, their league form hasn't been entirely awful, with draws against Manchester City and Arsenal accompanying a rampant 6-0 win against QPR and the 2-0 win at Wigan later in October.
Jol likely won't have Damien Duff, who's made seven starts on the campaign so far, but Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey, and Bryan Ruiz should all be back in contention. Liverpool old boys Danny Murphy and John Arne Riise have been mainstays in the midfield and defense respectively, as have goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, defenders Brede Hangeland (who's hopefully having Luis Suarez flashbacks) and Chris Baird, and Dembele, Dempsey, and Bobby Zamora through the midfield and further forward.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Henderson Maxi
---LUCAS. Also, Steven Gerrard's latest infection. Jack Robinson's still on crutches or something. LUCAS.
---After a 3/4 overhaul without missing too much against Chelsea in the League Cup, my guess is that Kenny Dalglish goes back to the most effective back line over the past month. That means Glen Johnson right, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger centrally, and Jose Enrique on the left. There's been some talk about shifting to three at the back and trying to fit seven in the midfield to try to accommodate for Lucas' absence, but I doubt there's anything in that talk. Save for Fabio Aurelio actually being fit, it's sort of a nice prospect to have two first-team quality back lines available.
---Elephant in the room: Lucas probably won't play tomorrow. Not worth trying to replace him, because finding a holding midfielder that can walk on water while leading the league in tackles might be hard to do at this point. Jay Spearing's been a frequent topic of conversation (and not just for his looks), and I'd expect him to come into the eleven to partner deeper in midfield with Charlie Adam. I think they'll be joined by Jordan Henderson from a more advanced position somehow, even though there's a slight chance they go it alone as a two-man central pairing that we've seen from Adam and Lucas so far this season.
---I'd like to see the quartet of Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy, Maxi, and Dirk Kuyt back in action in attack with Henderson alongside Adam, just to see if it was possible for the entire match to take place on a downhill slope. Probably not the case tomorrow, and I think there's a good chance that Bellamy, Maxi, and/or Kuyt could be back on the bench. If we're compromising, I'll say Kuyt-Henderson-Maxi behind Suarez, but it's just as likely that Stewart Downing gets another start. So, right, whatever.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
For the first time in years, away form isn't the biggest concern for Liverpool, and they're hitting a patch that should see them continue their successes on the road. Obligatory mention about the loss of Lucas, but I don't think there's any reason for the club to approach tomorrow's match too self-conscious about how they continue without the midfielder. The confidence we've seen for most of the season---even in the disappointing draws at home and the loss at Stoke---needs to continue, regardless of who's available.
As it's the only Monday match, TV coverage is easy enough to come by, with Sky Sports 1 televising the match in England and ESPN2/ESPN3.com showing it live in the US. As always, that makes streaming much easier, and we'll have the links for that in the matchday thread. Be sure to let us know if there's any way to watch we've missed, and it'll be included along with the rest of the regular sites. Team sheets will follow after they're released around an hour before kickoff, unless you know someone who knows someone who's in the know, in which case you can stuff it.
Like every other weekday match, it's going to be something worth skipping work for, so we'll see you back here tomorrow.