Quick turnaround for Liverpool after their Sunday victory as they head to Loftus Road to face Queens Park Rangers tomorrow night. After a difficult start to 2012, Liverpool finally look as though they're turning a corner with a convincing win over Everton in the Merseyside Derby and a grinding victory over Stoke on Sunday to advance to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Mark Hughes and QPR, on the other hand, are flailing in the relegation zone, winless in their last six league matches and desperately in need of points.
Which is, of course, a potential disaster scenario for Liverpool. The aforementioned wins over Everton and Stoke, both of whom presented their own unique challenges, are an encouraging sign, particularly given that they required Liverpool to adapt their approach over a fairly short period of time. For a club that's seemed unable to make the necessary adjustments and excelled at inconsistency, the past week and a half has provided a welcome change and one that hopefully they'll see through to the middle of May.
So in a strange sort of way, QPR present the perfect challenge for Liverpool, even though they've had a torrid time of late. Level on points with Wigan and Wolves, Hughes' side have struggled to put anything together since the start of February. They closed January with a 3-1 win over Wigan, but since that time they've only managed two points from five, with losses to fellow relegation strugglers Wolves and Blackburn especially tough to swallow.
There's plenty of Premier League veterans in the QPR side, as was the case when the two clubs met back in December. Then it was the assemblage of Anton Ferdinand, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Joey Barton, and they've since added former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse, ex-Fulham man Bobby Zamora, and defender Nedum Onuoha from Manchester City. Alejandro Faurlin and Kieran Dyer are long-term absences through injury, and while there's questions about Federico Macheda and DJ Campbell, Adel Taraabt might be available.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Skrtel Coates Enrique
---Glen Johnson's still expected to be out, and Daniel Agger and Lucas are both out longer term. No news on Craig Bellamy, who's missed the squad entirely for the past two matches. Fabio Aurelio is, you know.
---Martin Kelly's fitness is the big question at the back, as he suffered some sort of injury towards the end of Liverpool's win over Stoke. It's not likely the booing of Stoke's traveling band of neanderthals did much to heal him, but if he's close to fit he'll start. If he's not we can expect to see Jon Flanagan in the starting eleven in league for the first time since the season opener. It'd make sense to spell Martin Skrtel, but if it's a choice between Skrtel or Jamie Carragher sitting, I'll go with Carragher on the bench and Sebastian Coates alongside Skrtel. Carragher's certainly been serviceable in his last two outings, but Skrtel's the mainstay right now. And sparing any surprises for Glen Johnson or Fabio Aurelio, we're likely to see Jose Enrique again at left back.
---There's been a large amount of backlash towards Charlie Adam over the past week or so, mostly in response to the fact that Liverpool have won twice without him and the more recently quote fact that they've won eight and lost only once without him starting. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I suppose that sounds right enough, as he's probably sat out most of Liverpool's cup ties. There's really no reason for him to come back in unless Steven Gerrard's unable to fit three matches into one week, and even in that case I'd prefer to have Jordan Henderson partner Jay Spearing. The evidence just isn't there to support Adam at this point.
---I think Luis Suarez is about the only locked-on starter in front of the midfield, as Andy Carroll dipped back into anonymity against Stoke and Maxi has started only sparingly. It'd make sense for Dirk Kuyt to start after coming on late in each of the past two matches, and it wouldn't hurt Stewart Downing to build off a strong second half against Stoke. A start for Carroll could be warranted, though, as he's been more good than bad in the past few weeks, and it'd be better to see Kuyt on the right flank than Henderson, who's been as poor there as he has been impressive in the middle.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
As I mentioned above, there's really no better test of this Liverpool side's mettle than to face a relegation-threatened side away from Anfield. They managed to show up for the derby, they got past Stoke when an FA Cup exit was on the line, and now they're responsible to get all three points against a side who need anything they can get their hands on. Fourth is still the company line for Liverpool, but with little at stake other than pride, it'll be interesting to see how exactly Liverpool manage to get themselves up for this one. The easy answer is that they shouldn't have to, but if you've been watching at all, you know that that's the biggest question mark for Kenny Dalglish's side.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 8:00PM GMT/4:00PM EST. There's no available listing for UK viewers right now, and those watching stateside will have to catch it on Fox Soccer Plus, FoxSoccer.tv, or via streams. We'll have the links for those, as usual, when the matchday thread goes up early tomorrow morning. I'll post the team sheets when they're released around an hour before kickoff, and Noel will see the match through to the recap, both here and over on Twitter. I'll be out of commission for this one, rendered helpless by senseless tasks like work, pretending to work, and ignoring work to try to check the score.
Hope you're all able to catch this one tomorrow, and that we can all have something nice to celebrate midweek.