Things finally start to space out a bit for Liverpool, as they'll now have only one match per week over the next few after having played six in the last two. That's made for a few tired legs and, in the case of Luis Suarez, proved to be enough to leave the Uruguayan on the sidelines tomorrow after having received a fifth yellow card against Southampton. We knew it had to happen at some point, and there was never going to be an ideal time, so tomorrow we get a temporary glimpse at what life is like without one of the Premier League's most important players.
If there's any silver lining it's that Liverpool have started to piece together match-winning form, first in the 1-0 victory over Southampton at Anfield, and then on Thursday in Udine to win their group and advance to the knockout stages of the Europa League. Both of those came with Suarez in the squad, of course, but he wasn't a principal in either of the two goals Liverpool scored.
The rest of the squad--and more accurately those who'll be tasked with replacing him in some way--will need to find goals against one of the league's better (at least statistically) defenses. West Ham haven't had the most wonderful run of form over the past moth, losing back-to-back Premier League matches for the first time all season against Spurs and Manchester United, but they rebounded nicely last weekend with two late goals to beat Chelsea 3-1.
Sam Allardyce has benefited from a number of strong individual performances thus far, with former Wigan man Mohamed Diame winning many of the accolades while impressing in a defensive midfield role. Alou Diarra, Jack Collison, and Ricardo Vaz Te will miss out, but Yossi Benayoun and George McCartney could return. They'd join what's a fairly stable core, with Jussi Jaaskelainen, Winston Reid, and James Collins anchoring the defense, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, and Diame in the midfield, and Carlton Cole up top.
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson
Sterling Shelvey Enrique
The story of the day for Liverpool is the one-match ban being served by Luis Suarez, which leaves a squad that was bereft of experienced striking options now without one. No injuries from the win over Udinese, and each of Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Daniel Agger should be available to feature. Nice to hear that Fabio Borini's steadily working back to fitness, even if he'd faded a bit into Danny Wilson "oh yeah that guy" territory, and Martin Kelly continues to rehab.
It's been an impressive run of incorrect predictions that a return for Andre Wisdom is on the cards, and I see no reason to stop now. Wisdom on the right, Johnson on the left, and Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in the middle. Pepe Reina's added another clean sheet to his tally for the season, albeit by the narrowest of margins after Antonio Di Natale's last-second strike in Italy, and hopefully the stinginess at the back we've seen in spurts over the past few weeks becomes the norm.
Lucas and Gerrard are locks, and it seems straightforward enough that Joe Allen rounds out the central midfield contingent so long as Gerrard doesn't end up further forward in attack. Jordan Henderson's been better, but I'm not sure how he'd feature, particularly with the other three names likely to start. There's plenty of permutations possible, and the setup could take a number of different forms, but I struggle to see a scenario in which each of Allen, Lucas, and Gerrard aren't involved.
Both the back line and midfield will have an impact on what things look like up top, but Jonjo Shelvey as a pseudo-striker seems the most likely, and if he's accompanied by Jose Enrique on the left and Raheem Sterling on the right he'll hopefully have enough support. Again, there's plenty more combinations possible, with Oussama Assaidi, Stewart Downing, Joe Cole, and Suso all potentially involved throughout.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 showing the match live in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel airing it in the US. Open thread, matchday, and team sheets will run as per usual, and hopefully you'll be around throughout. A win to wrap up the weekend would be awfully nice, and strange as it might seem, would be close to enough of a reason to possibly have the slightest bit of something resembling optimism. Maybe.