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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Fulham, 05.01.12

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Liverpool host Fulham tomorrow night as the West London club round off their Merseyside swing with a visit to Anfield. The visitors will hope their fortunes are better than they were at the weekend across Stanley Park, and Liverpool will be looking to carry their improved form over the past two matches through the week and into Saturday's FA Cup Final.

The idea of the coming weekend being a distraction has gradually given way to overt admissions that it's all about getting set for Chelsea---Kenny Dalglish acknowledged as much in his pre-Fulham presser, highlighting the preparations that the club are making for those who are either in need of a rest or increased game time. That explains some of the selections from this past weekend, and will likely inform the eleven that we see tomorrow.

Making it known obviously runs the risk of dismissing tomorrow night's match, and while Dalglish also emphasized that's something the club won't be doing, it's hard to give the same amount of attention to Fulham's visit as it is the last meaningful match of a season in which those sorts of events have been few and far between. With Liverpool struggling for consistent home form, the prospect of a display lacking in energy or drive isn't completely out of the question despite assurances to the contrary.

But Fulham will require Liverpool's attention, as they've proven to be a fairly stubborn opponent for Liverpool over the past few seasons (aside from last season's visit to Craven Cottage) and will be looking to rebound quickly after stumbling so badly on Saturday at Goodison. The 0-4 result against Everton came on the heels of four matches unbeaten, which came after three straight losses, which came after three straight wins, etc. etc. It's been stop-start for most of the season, but for all their ups and downs, Jol's side sit only three points back of Liverpool in ninth.

They were without their manager in the Everton match due to a chest infection, but he's expected to return along with right-back Stephen Kelly. Zdenek Grygera, Bryan Ruiz and Steve Sidwell will all miss out, but they'll have the core of the squad available with Mark Schwarzer in goal, and Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Phillippe Senderos, and John Arne Riise across the back. Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembele anchor the midfield, with Damien Duff and Karim Frei on the flanks and Pavel Pogrebnyak and Clint Dempsey providing the goalscoring threat up front for a side in search of their first top-flight victory at Anfield.

Who starts for Liverpool?

Reina
Kelly Skrtel Coates Enrique
Spearing Henderson
Kuyt Shelvey Maxi
Suarez

---Andy Carroll missed out on Saturday with a slight groin injury, and while Kenny Dalglish reported that it's nothing to be concerned about, it's not clear whether or not that makes him available tomorrow night. No new injuries from the win at Norwich, leaving Lucas and Charlie Adam as the only confirmed absences.

---It was strange to see Martin Skrtel left on the bench at Carrow Road, as he'd seem better rested tomorrow than Saturday in preparation for Wembley. I can't see him being left out two matches in a row, though, so I'll guess that he partners with Sebastian Coates in the middle, and Martin Kelly makes his return on the right with Jose Enrique left.

---The 4231 at the weekend proved far more effective in supporting the attack, and while I don't think Steven Gerrard starts again on such short rest, Jonjo Shelvey could play a similar role pushing forward. Jay Spearing is in line for another start, and a partnership with Jordan Henderson based behind Shelvey might be an option. Stewart Downing was missing for most of the weekend, and with Craig Bellamy rarely making the eleven in consecutive matches this season, I'd be surprised if Dirk Kuyt and Maxi missed out.

---Questions about Andy Carroll's fitness leave Luis Suarez as the only forward in the squad aside from Kuyt and Bellamy, neither of whom have played as an out-and-out striker much at all this season. It's not ideal to have Suarez start again, but unless Carroll's ready there aren't many options. No more than 60 minutes should be on the cards if Suarez does start, with either of the aforementioned pair capable of filling in.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

It's going to be hard not to have an eye on Wembley for all on the Liverpool side of things---I've mentioned it at least five times already, and I'm guessing much of the build-up will focus on how the squad can maintain their focus ahead of Saturday's visit to London. If they're able to do that while continuing to trend positively on the pitch, at the very least they'll give themselves both a good chance at victory tomorrow and another good display to build off ahead of the weekend.

Kickoff tomorrow is set for 7:45PM BST/2:45EST, with ESPN2/ESPN3.com airing the match live in the US. There's no listing for UK viewers right now, so those folks along with others in areas without a TV viewing option can check out the streams that we'll link to in the matchday thread. That'll go up in the early hours of tomorrow morning, and we'll have the team sheets when they're released an hour before kickoff. We're typically around for the long haul from that point on, either in the comments or at our timeshare on Twitter.

Have a good start to the week, and we'll see you around tomorrow.