After late winners at Ewood Park and Wembley, Liverpool return to Anfield to host West Brom, where they'll hope to earn just their sixth home victory of the 2011-2012 campaign. A good chunk of the headlines will focus on Roy Hodgson's first time back at Anfield after his managerial spell ended last January, but Liverpool would do well to place their sights firmly on ending the season on a good run of results regardless of who's at the helm for the opposition. But yeah, Hodgepocaplyse Now: Redux and stuff.
It'll be interesting to see how Liverpool approach tomorrow---there's not been any telling what we can expect from Liverpool in league this season, and coming off the win at Wembley and looking ahead to the final with Chelsea, it'd be plenty understandable if Liverpool completely underwhelmed. Or they turn it around for good, finally building off previous successes and channeling what's good in this squad to hit their stride and end on a high note.
Their mantra's been to take things as they come, play a match at a time and add up the points at the end. That's the bar that Kenny Dalglish set since he arrived, and while it was endearing as the club went on an impressive run to finish the 2010-2011 season, there's been few points to add up in the current campaign, particularly at Anfield. At this point, adding up the hypothetical points would be a much more enjoyable exercise, given that they've drawn almost twice as many as they've won.
Roy Hodgson's Liverpool was notorious for their poor away form, but in his first full season at West Brom he's guided the club to six wins on the road. Victories at Newcastle and Stoke City stand out, and they also managed to put five past Wolves at the Molineux in mid-February. Results at the Hawthorns have picked up since that time, with wins over Chelsea, Sunderland, Blackburn, and, most recently, QPR.
Marc-Antoine Fortuné is one of the few questions for Hodgson tomorrow, with confirmed absences for James Morrison, Zoltan Gera, and Steven Reid, and an expected return for Jonas Olsson after he suffered a groin injury prior to their win over QPR last Saturday. He'll have most of his regulars available, though, with Ben Foster in goal and Olsson, Nicky Shorey, Gareth McAuley, Liam Ridgewell, and Billy Jones available in defense. Youssuf Mulumbu leads the midfielders in appearances, and he'll be favorite to start with some combination of Chris Brunt, Jerome Thomas, Graham Dorrans, and Keith Andrews. Peter Odemwingie, Shane Long, and Fortuné will round out the attack, with a forward pairing likely in Hodgson's preferred 442 system.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Gerrard Henderson Shelvey Maxi
---After the bans expired for Pepe Reina and Doni, Lucas and Charlie Adam are the only confirmed absences, neither of whom is expected to return prior to the end of the season.
---Hopefully normal service resumes across the defense with Reina's return, meaning he's back in goal and Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, and Jose Enrique across the back line. Enrique's continued omission after a period of rest has been the most curious, and hopefully he's back at full strength and ready for the run-in. Even if that's not the case, there shouldn't be any room for Jamie Carragher---Agger may push left again, where he was out of sorts but serviceable against Everton, but even if that's the case we'd hope to see Sebastian Coates get some time.
---I love Jay Spearing and am consistently impressed with his level of commitment, but he's been less effective lately and shouldn't be keeping Jonjo Shelvey or Jordan Henderson out of the eleven in the middle of the park. It's not likely that those two partner with Gerrard right, but I'd prefer it at this point. That impacts the wide areas as well, with Gerrard probably more likely to play centrally, leaving two of Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, Stewart Downing, and Maxi Rodriguez to feature. Kuyt seems due for a start, as do Maxi and Bellamy, so there's little certainty about who we'll end up getting.
---For once there seems to be a solid case for starting Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll up front other than "it'd be nice if they could be good together sometime." Both are on a relatively effective run of form, with Carroll getting the winner in each of Liverpool's last two matches and Suarez giving Everton fits for most of last Saturday's semi-final. Slight chance that Carroll's omitted in favor of Kuyt, but I can't see it after the past two weeks.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Even with all hope of any sort of league accomplishment long gone, it's critical that Liverpool finish the season strong. The three matches between now and the FA Cup Final on May 5th are vital not only for the club to create momentum prior to their second chance at silverware in an otherwise disappointing season, but to finish with a little bit of pride remaining after falling short of expectations. They'll be expected to win each of the next three, starting with West Brom's visit tomorrow, and this is as good a time as any to start living up to expectations.
Kickoff for tomorrow's match is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with no listings available in the UK and stateside viewers limited to Fox Soccer Plus. We'll have the usual links for streams that are available in the matchday thread that will run ahead of kickoff tomorrow, with team sheets updated around an hour before kickoff. You can catch up with us in the comments thread of the matchday post or over on Twitter if you're so inclined.
Hope to see you back here tomorrow, and that we get to enjoy a Liverpool win to round off the weekend.