After playing two tightly-contested matches last season---Liverpool scored the winners in the 86th and 92nd minutes respectively---Bolton visits Anfield in hopes of continuing what's been an encouraging start to the season. Liverpool's had all the success in this matchup over the past few years, winning the last nine, but with two deserved wins and a hard-fought loss to City last weekend, tomorrow's visitors will arrive expecting to get a result.
And given the way Liverpool faded at home against Sunderland, it wouldn't be out of the question to see Bolton give the hosts a run for their money. Two weeks and improved fitness levels will have separated Liverpool from that dire second half performance, but their proneness to abandoning a more fluid style of play for the long ball could see an opportunistic Bolton side take the match over.
As noted above, it's been a solid start to the season for the Wanderers, who breezed past QPR on the opening day and were unfortunate not to pick up a point against Manchester City last Sunday. They got past a plucky Macclesfield side midweek in the League Cup, buoyed by an excellent debut performance from loanee and Premier League veteran Tuncay Sanli, who scored the equalizer and provided the assist for Martin Petrov's winner.
Coyle will have to deal with a smattering of injuries, though, with Grétar Steinsson and Marcos Alonso joining Sam Ricketts, Tyrone Mears, Lee Chung-Yong, and Stuart Holden on the injury list. While that leaves some questions to answer at fullback, they'll have experience and skill to rely on up front, with Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic (one of the league's most prolific goalscorers) leading the line. They could call on Tuncay in an attacking role as well, and even with the midfield missing Holden and Lee, two of last season's most exciting performers, Coyle will have Fabrice Muamba and Nigel Reo-Coker to call on, as well as Petrov from the wide areas. At the back they'll be steadied by former Liverpool and current Arsenal target Gary Cahill next to Zat Knight, and Lion of Vienna Suite has David Wheater and Joe Riley filling the gaps at fullback in front of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Carragher Agger Enrique
Kuyt Suarez Downing
---Steven Gerrard continues his rehab, as does Glen Johnson, and now we can add Raul Meireles to the list after he injured his collarbone against Exeter City on Wednesday. Fabio Aurelio's been absent from the squad since the season started, but we haven't heard anything about an injury other than reports that he picked up a knock prior to the season opener.
---Nothing changes for me from last week, particularly at the back. Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were sturdy at the Emirates last Saturday, and while Martin Skrtel's available again, there's no reason for him to displace either of the pair. The performances of Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique were particularly impressive, with both excelling in defense and going forward. There were some raised eyebrows prior to the Enrique signing about the veracity of his statistics in defense (mine included), but so far he's been nearly unbeatable.
---The injury to Meireles (and less so the departure of Alberto Aquilani) clears things up in midfield, with Kenny Dalglish again free to pick Lucas and Charlie Adam as his central pairing. There's been some growing pains for Adam, who still looks awkward at times and is suspect to the odd lapse in, you know, trying. As expected, he's shown glimpses of brilliance in distribution and on set pieces, and playing alongside Lucas gives him a boost, but I think we're all hoping for a bit more consistency from him.
---The fitness of Luis Suarez again comes into question tomorrow; if the feeling is that he's fit enough to start, I'd guess we see a front four of Kuyt, Suarez, and Stewart Downing behind Andy Carroll. If further rest is recommended, last week's attacking contingent seems most likely, with Jordan Henderson taking up the Uruguayan's post. It was another encouraging performance from Henderson against Exeter, with signs of improvement across the board. Unless you've already made up your mind about him after three competitive matches, ignored his clear commitment to improving, impressive work rate, and discounted the fact that he's only 21 years old. Then he's shit, just like Andy Carroll.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
For most of the first half against Sunderland, Liverpool did exactly what we'd hoped for---they pressed, got forward with intent, and looked like they'd hang five on the guests in front of an adoring home crowd. Everything turned on its head, though, and they ended up looking frighteningly similar to the Liverpool of last season that we'd all hoped had been buried. So putting together two halves of football that's forceful, intentional, and effective, especially at home, is vital.
Thankfully tomorrow's match is another one that we should all find on TV with relative ease---Sky Sports 2 has it in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel will be showing it stateside. Those of us punished with last week's early kickoff have a bit of a respite, but the joy of having a worldwide network of supporters is that the later start is sure to leave someone somewhere pissed off. As usual, we'll carry links to streams and teamsheets in the matchday thread, which will run early tomorrow, so let us know if there's a way you'll be watching that we haven't covered.
For now, enjoy Friday, and let's hope the weekend starts on the right foot.