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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Wolves, 01.31.12

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Back down to Earth for Liverpool, as they travel to the West Midlands to face 19th-place Wolverhampton. It's a stark contrast from the action of the past week, facing opposition at the bottom of the table, away from Anfield, and with nothing immediately at stake. And if you've paid attention to Liverpool at all this season, it's cause for concern, with form against the mid- and lower-table sides worlds apart from the displays we've seen the last two times out.

The atmosphere around the club has been unquestionably positive in the past 24 hours, which seemed impossible considering how dire everything looked a week ago Saturday. At least for me, though, that excitement has turned to a healthy dose of anxiety, with Liverpool now tasked with carrying over their sense of purpose and urgency to the type of match that's been the most consistently challenging all season.

Mick McCarthy's Wolves are struggling mightily, having gone nearly two months without a win and only three points above Wigan at the bottom. They've lost four of their last five home matches, with the only point coming from a 2-2 draw with Norwich City. But with draws away to Arsenal and Spurs during that stretch, as well as the tough time they gave Liverpool at Anfield, they've shown that they're capable of making life plenty difficult. As if Liverpool weren't good enough at doing that for themselves.

McCarthy's got some significant selection concerns, with Karl Henry starting his suspension and Emmanuel Frimpong and Jamie O'Hara both injured. Christophe Berra, Roger Johnson, and Richard Stearman should fill out three spots at the back with Wayne Hennessey in goal, and Stephen Hunt, Nenad Milijas, and Matthew Jarvis featuring in midfield. Steven Fletcher is the man to watch in attack, netting nine goals (including one at Anfield) in league while starting alongside one of either Kevin Doyle or Sylvain Ebanks-Blake.

Who starts for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Skrtel Coates Enrique
Spearing Adam
Kuyt Henderson Bellamy
Carroll

---There were plenty of rumors about an injury to Steven Gerrard but no confirmation given, so we're left to assume that the substitution on Saturday was down to the number of minutes he'd played in such a short period of time. Similar uncertainty about Jay Spearing, who didn't make the squad on Saturday but is apparently ready to feature. That leaves Lucas as the only absence through injury (but probably Fabio Aurelio too), and Luis Suarez serves the final match of his ban.

---Alterations in defense would make sense after the weekend, as Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger both put in another 90 minute shift just three days after the Wednesday match with City. Given his history I think Agger's more likely to give way than Skrtel, and if that happens I'd like to see Sebastian Coates given a run alongside Skrtel. There's obviously a chance no changes are made and they maintain the status quo, or both Agger and Skrtel step aside for Coates and Jamie Carragher. At fullback I'm expecting Glen Johnson to return despite Martin Kelly's excellent performance on Saturday, and Jose Enrique to continue on the left.

---Cloudy, cloudy midfield, with the aformentioned questions about Gerrard and Spearing, and the obvious need for a formation that accounts for the variety of weakness that a Lucasless midfield suffers. Charlie Adam again seems nailed-on to start, which hopefully comes alongside Spearing in the middle. One of Jordan Henderson, Gerrard, or Jonjo Shelvey probably rounds things out through the middle, and while this is a match that could involve Shelvey, I'll go with Henderson for now.

---The rest of the attack seemingly has to involved Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt, who were impressive on Saturday and are hopefully hitting their stride. The latter seems more likely to be involved than the former, as he only featured for thirty minutes against United, while Carroll worked alone up top for most of the match. Their inclusion leaves a question about Stewart Downing or Craig Bellamy, with the Welshman preferred but possibly in need of additional recovery time. But I'll guess he starts anyway, with only 20 minutes played on Saturday and hopefully ready to go.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

Same old story for Liverpool, who have some convincing to do when it comes to their ability to get results on a more consistent basis, and when the occasion's not as sparkly as it's been over the past week. More cutting edge, more killer instinct, more finishing. As impressive and committed as they seemed against the two Manchester sides this week, they were just as lifeless and lackadaisical when they faced relegation-threatened opposition away from Anfield just over a week ago. It wasn't good enough then, and it won't be good enough tomorrow. And after this week, we know they're more than capable of being much, much better regardless of the opposition.

No current listing for viewers in England, but stateside the match will be aired live on Fox Soccer Plus. Usual links for streams and ways to watch online will be included in the matchday thread, which will have the teamsheets posted as close to the time they're released as possible. And if there's any transfer activity that's relevant or noteworthy we'll make sure to have something posted, but after Dalglish's comments earlier in the day, don't hold your breath.

Or do, and then you'll just pass out and wake up in time for the match.