One match left in 2012, and then Liverpool turn the page to a new year, one that's yet again filled with uncertainty. The past few years we've seen a tremendous amount of turnover--the backroom staff, the owners, the managers, the squad--and there promises to be more, and we're left to hope that this calendar year ushers in a more stable and successful era for the club.
Recent results have been all over the place, and the fallout has left us with far more questions than answers. Wins or excellent performances despite a poor or disappointing result have often been followed up with dismal displays, and given the show Liverpool put on at the Britannia on Wednesday, you'd be forgiven for expecting a masterclass tomorrow at Loftus Road. Most of us know better, and 2012's been anything but predictable, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Liverpool play far better. Probably just because it'd be hard to get any worse than they were midweek, but still. Optimism!
That their opposition have struggled so mightily in league allows for a bit of actual positivity; Queens Park Rangers have only one win all season, acquired only recently over Fulham, and are on their second manager after spending the entire season in the relegation zone. Harry Redknapp's ushered in a more blustery period than the club saw under Mark Hughes but hasn't overseen any tremendous successes--they started with three straight draws before the Fulham win, and since that they've lost two straight (away to Newcastle and at home against West Brom).
Redknapp has a litany of injuries to deal with; Ryan Nelsen's out with a virus, Julio Cesar's nursing a back injury, Nedum Onuoha has a hamstring problem, and Park Ji-Sung is a question due to a knee injury. There's also Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, and Jose Boswingwa missing, all of whom have been gone longer-term, which leaves the squad under-strength and without many of the bigger name signings they made over the summer. They will have former Liverpool man Djibril Cisse, though, and Adel Taarabt should feature along with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephane Mbia, Armand Traore, Anton Ferdinand, and Robert Green in goal.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Suso Suarez Sterling
There don't seem to be any major concerns to emerge from Wednesday's loss--other than the soul-crushing reality that Liverpool are mostly mediocre--but Brendan Rodgers did go out of his way to note the club's efforts to manage Lucas' return to full fitness. Given those comments I'd be shocked if he started; he'll make the squad, though, leaving Fabio Borini (who's recently returned to Liverpool for rehab) and Martin Kelly as the only confirmed absences through injury, and Oussama Assaidi lingering somewhere in purgatory ahead of his departure for the African Cup of Nations.
Liverpool's sporadically leaky defense doesn't look like changing at any point soon, even though I'd like to see if there's a way to fit Sebastian Coates into the mix. Martin Skrtel would seem to be the most likely candidate for substitution, but it's doubtful that would happen, and it would require that Coates push past Jamie Carragher on the depth chart. An unchanged defensive unit appears to be on the cards barring injury or Rodgers deciding to alter the formation.
Lucas' absence means a start for either Jordan Henderson or Nuri Sahin, and even though I want to see the masked Turkish international working his way into more minutes, I want a start for Henderson more. He's the most deserving of any Liverpool midfielder at the current moment, and there's no reason to keep him out of the eleven. Ideally we could see some constellation of Joe Allen joining both Henderson and Sahin, but that would mean benching Steven Gerrard, and that's probably just not going to happen.
The ankle knock that Luis Suarez picked up against Stoke isn't serious enough to keep him out, and he'll start as long as his fitness holds up. Rodgers' decision to take Suso off at the half against Stoke confounded, as the young Spaniard was arguably Liverpool's most composed and capable in possession. Hopefully he gets another start tomorrow along with Raheem Sterling, although Stewart Downing's been something close to nailed-on lately. So, yeah.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with Fox Soccer Channel airing the match live in the US and Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK. Team sheets will run in the matchday thread about an hour or so before kickoff, and we'll have any other relevant news or notes ahead of tonight's overnight post. Hopefully you'll be around to join us here or over on Twitter, and that Liverpool can close out a fairly miserable calendar year on a much more positive note.