Last Saturday was just an objectively not good day for Liverpool. Previous losses had carried with them some semblance of positive sentiment despite the result, but the loss against Aston Villa had little of that. Liverpool were bad across the board, and that they were so woeful in a match many expected them to win made matters much, much worse.
So what's really cool is that Liverpool play at Anfield tomorrow in a match that many expect them to win, because last Saturday is something I instantly forgot. Or committed to a growing bank of memories that include feeling underwhelmed, bitter, angry, and desperately in need of a drink regardless of the time of day. Basically like every other day but just with Liverpool having played.
As against Villa, Liverpool will likely be favored, this time against a Fulham side that's struggled as winter's drawn nearer. Their win against Newcastle on December 10th was their first since mid-October, and that was sandwiched on the front end by a 0-3 result at Craven Cottage against Spurs and most recently by a 2-1 loss at QPR, their host's first of the season. It's not been all bad, though, with draws forced at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates in November, and despite a dearth of wins recently, they're just two points back of Liverpool and have the same number of victories.
Manager Martin Jol has to do some strategizing in his midfield, though--Bryan Ruiz and Mahamadou Diarra aren't due back in full training until next week, and Steve Sidwell will be serving a one-match ban. Jol spoke about the likelihood that Chris Baird could feature in the absence of the aforementioned names, and he'll have Sascha Riether available, one three players (Aaron Huges and Mark Schwarzer being the other two) to have started all 17 matches so far. Liverpool old-boy John Arne Riise should start as well, and familiar faces Brede Hangeland, Chris Baird, Hugo Rodallega, and Dimitar Berbatov will likely also be in the eleven.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Suso Suarez Downing
Noel provided the injury update yesterday--Jose Enrique's ready to go and Lucas is progressing nicely, but Oussama Assaidi's going to miss out with a knee injury. He's essentially been a longer-term absentee anyhow, joining Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini on the injury list.
Enrique's return means he'll come back in at the back or up top, and given that his form looked to be returning in defense prior to injury, I'd guess he starts at fullback. The rest of the defensive unit picks itself, and if Enrique's improvements over the past two months don't prove to be a false dawn, it'd be nice to see consistency and solidity at the back. Last weekend has to have been an abberation, and with Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, and Daniel Agger on form along with Enrique, it should be.
Of course, a major culprit in Liverpool's defensive frailties against Aston Villa was Joe Allen, and he's got to be in line for a rest. I'm cheating a little bit here--bib theory doesn't have Allen or Jordan Henderson involved, instead suggesting that Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Jonjo Shelvey will form the midfield three. Also possible that Suso starts in the midfield with Shelvey further forward, as the young Spaniard was surprisingly among what looked to be the starting eleven in training.
For now I'll guess that he starts across the front, and whether we like it or not, that same theory also has Stewart Downing involved rather than Raheem Sterling. We know the youngster's getting a rest at some point, and even if it'd make more sense to rest him for the Boxing Day trip to Thunderdome, we might get it tomorrow. Luis Suarez plays always, and hopefully some combination of Suso, Shelvey, Gerrard, and Downing can provide the support he needs.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST, and Fox Soccer Channel will air the match live in the US with ESPN carrying coverage in the UK. Any other viewing options will be included as available in the matchday thread, which will follow the overnight post by a few hours. Team sheets, as usual, will run an hour or so before kickoff, and hopefully you'll be around to join us in the comments or over on Twitter.