Liverpool welcome Wigan to Anfield for their second match against a relegation-threatened side in four days after their late collapse at QPR on Wednesday. The Latics can't quite nudge their way out of the drop with a win, but they can at least draw level on points with the side that condemned Liverpool to their fourth league defeat in five matches.
There's sort of a hesitation that I feel now when doing previews, mostly as a result of the knowledge that I have absolutely no idea what to expect from Liverpool anymore. Which isn't to imply that I actually did before, because let's be honest, this is mostly a stream of consciousness thing that relies on little empirical or intellectual foundation. But it'd be nice if Liverpool's results somehow defied their maddening inconsistencies, but with another loss midweek, I'm at a place where I'm not even sure what exactly I want to see. At least short of something that will finally convince me things are actually improving.
If there's a time for that to start happening it's now, as Liverpool have six of their eight remaining matches against sides below them in the table. The theory was that it could start at Loftus Road, but with a new twist in the calamitous narrative of the season, they finally finished chances but completely collapsed at the other end. On its own it's a blip on the radar for a defensive unit that's saved Liverpool plenty of points, but with the general disappointment with this campaign, it's just another reason to spend most of your time watching the match through the bottom of a liquor bottle.
Compared to Wigan, however, Liverpool's problems are positively first-world. We expect more from Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool, and we're disappointed that they're not better, but there's at least the assurance of Premier League and European football next season. At this point it seems more likely that Wigan will be in the Championship next season, with points coming slowly and only two wins since early December. If there's any bright spot for them, it's that three of their four wins on the season have come away from the DW, and Liverpool have flattered to deceive at Anfield.
Roberto Martinez will have close to a full squad to choose from tomorrow, with only Hugo Rodallega, David Jones, and backup keeper Mike Pollitt. While the absence of Rodallega would take away some of the threat in attack, they've struggled to score goals regardless of who's available, and will likely hope to stifle Liverpool in a similar fashion as they did back in December. Ali Al-Habsi's started every match this season, and Maynor Figueroa (28), Victor Moses (27), and Gary Caldwell (27) lead the squad in appearances. Jordi Gomez and Franco di Santo are joint top scorers with four apiece, and Moses, Ben Watson, and James McArthur each have three.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Flanagan Skrtel Coates Aurelio
---Charlie Adam will be a late decision, and Martin Kelly is expected back after coming off in the first half against QPR. There's no news on Craig Bellamy, and Lucas, Daniel Agger, and Glen Johnson are all ruled out through longer-term injuries, with Jack Robinson also not yet fit.
---Even if Kelly's fit, there's no reason that he has to start. He's been terrific when he has featured, and is probably a more reliable option than Jon Flanagan even if he's only 85%, but it doesn't make sense to continually put his fitness at risk. Flanagan can and should get some time; pushing Jamie Carragher to full back isn't good for anyone, and he should no longer be keeping Sebastian Coates out of the eleven, so start Flanagan, Martin Skrtel, Coates, and the reanimated corpse of Fabio Aurelio. That a rest for Jose Enrique is contingent on the fitness of Johnson, Kelly, Robinson, and, worst of all, Aurelio is unfair, but he's clearly in need of a day off.
---There's bound to be tired bodies throughout---Skrtel's probably tired enough at the back, and the same goes for those that'll be selected in the midfield. Jay Spearing's been very effective and is on a good run, and I think he should continue to feature. And Noel outlined earlier, with a bit more focus on Coates, there's little understanding the reasoning in the handling of Jonjo Shelvey, so he might as well get a start , with Jordan Henderson and Maxi hopefully rounding out the midfield, giving Stewart Downing a brief rest. Steven Gerrard might be more likely to start than Shelvey, but he's also played 180-plus minutes this week, which doesn't bode well for his groin dong. Henderson and Maxi wide makes for a narrow attack, and if Flanagan or a hobbled Kelly starts there's not as much threat down the right, but you know, whatever.
---Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez should probably start together. There, that's settled.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Having more luck, obviously.
Also, having the stones to actually take a match to supposedly overmatched opposition in front of the home crowd would be nice. Finishing chances would be good, too. No late defensive cock-ups that piss away a lead. Playing a brand of football that doesn't give you the feeling they're always looking around as if to say, "is this okay? Am I doing it right?" Those things. Those things seem important. And if they don't lead to a win, or they don't manage to achieve them, let's at least acknowledge that they exist in reality rather than blaming the cosmos.
Tomorrow's the dreaded 3:00PM GMT/11:00AM GMT kickoff, which means viewing options are limited. Stateside you can catch the match on Fox Soccer Plus or FoxSoccer.tv if you've shelled out the coin for it, but otherwise we'll all be streaming together. We'll have links for those in the matchday thread, which will also have the team sheets around an hour before kickoff.
See you tomorrow, with a pre-match drunk rapidly approaching mandatory. Ha, just kidding, that happened months ago. Choose your drink wisely and safely. But choose it nonetheless.