Liverpool step into the last remaining competition on their calendar, welcoming Oldham Athletic to Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup. The League One side got past Southend United in the second round after a draw forced the home replay, which the hosts won 1-0. Liverpool will be looking to get past the third round for just the third time in six seasons after crashing out to Reading and Manchester United in the past two seasons.
Tuesday's result doesn't have to linger much longer, with Kenny Dalglish's squad featuring in the only FA Cup match scheduled for Friday. Thus far Liverpool's taken domestic cup competition very seriously, fielding strong lineups and progressing to the semi-finals of the League Cup. And while we're not likely to see many of the same faces we saw Tuesday, we can hopefully expect more of the same from Dalglish and company.
It's been an up and down campaign for the side from Manchester, with manager Paul Dickov overseeing a first half that's left the club 14th in League One. Their win over Notts County on New Year's Eve was their first in over a month, and they've won no more than two consecutive matches all season. They crashed out of the League Cup in early August, losing on penalties after heading to extra time level at 1-1 with Carlisle United. Thankfully their performances in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and the FA Cup have been more encouraging, with the club set for the Northern Section Final against Chesterfield in the former and tomorrow's third round appearance in the latter.
They started with a 3-1 win over Burton Albion, winning two penalties in the first ten minutes (and missing one) and scoring three times in just over half an hour. Their second-round draw at Southend earned a chance at a replay, which they won in front of their home fans on the strength of a second-half goal from Chris Taylor. Each of Oldham's goals in the competition have come from a different man, with Shefki Kugi, Robbie Simpson, and Dean Furman netting in the opener, James Wesolowski getting their lone goal in the Southend draw, and Taylor sealing progress with his strike.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Carragher Coates Aurelio
Maxi Shelvey Bellamy
---Luis Suarez serves the second match of his eight-match ban from the FA, and it looks like Jack Robinson and Lucas are the only confirmed absentees through injury.
---The biggest question after methodically poring through the official site's training pictures from earlier in the day is whether or not Fabio Aurelio survived training (and a stiff breeze on Merseyside). If he did, I wouldn't be entirely shocked if he got his bi-annual run out in the eleven, albeit for the first twenty or so minutes. There has to be starts for Martin Kelly and Jamie Carragher, who've been sidelined due to the solid form of Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel/Daniel Agger. Sebastian Coates looks likely to feature as well, leaving left back the only point of contention. If Aurelio's unavailable, it's either Jon Flanagan out of position or Jose Enrique on three days' rest.
---Of the midfield that we saw throughout the match against City on Tuesday, I'm guessing that Jay Spearing and possibly Jordan Henderson return, with Charlie Adam in need of a break that lasts just a shade under eternity. Steven Gerrard could be back, but with Kenny Dalglish going out of his way all week to underline the caution that'll be taken with the captain's recovery, it looks like a long shot. His absence should allow an appearance for Jonjo Shelvey, though, who's deserving of an extended look.
---The attack will involve some combination of Craig Bellamy, Maxi, Andy Carroll, and Dirk Kuyt, with Stewart Downing likely left out after putting in a full ninety at City. For all his struggles he did get up and down the pitch all night, meaning it'd be more plausible to see Maxi, Bellamy, and/or Kuyt. And while Carroll also played the entire match at the Eastlands, he needs all the match time he can muster. Starting with Fabio Aurelio in the lineup and a supporting cast that can create space across the forward areas, especially against lower-league opposition, could provide at least a little tonic for Carroll's troubles.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Tomorrow's got all the makings of a feel-good match after the poor result against Manchester City. Unfortunately it's also got the makings of another Liverpool capitulation in a domestic cup competition. There's a fair few examples on hand---Northampton last season and Reading a year earlier being the most recent---to cause at least a little concern about Liverpool's prospects. Add in the "magic of the Cup" and all that, and it's not looking to be the walk in the park that we so desperately want to see. If they can get past all that and start on the front foot, though, they can avoid the types of struggles we've seen in the past few years.
It's bad, bad, bad, BAD news for those of us planning on watching the match, with precisely zero listings at the present moment. That's also objectively not good for the possibilities of streaming, which also rely on the fact that there's cameras in the joint. So that makes watching the match sort of a challenge on all fronts outside of being there, which I'm not planning on doing. We'll scramble around together in hopes that something comes available, though, and will run the matchday post with links and team sheets as usual.
See you back here tomorrow to collectively moan about not being able to watch the match. The Glory of the FA Cup!