Quick turnaround for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool as face relegation threatened Blackburn just a few days after their draw at Anfield with Aston Villa. Tomorrow's hosts sit 18th in the table, level on points with both QPR and Wigan and sandwiched in between the two clubs on goal differential. Three home wins since January and Liverpool's recent record against...everyone should leave Steve Kean's squad optimistic, though, in what's a vital match for their survival hopes and hopefully an important momentum builder for Liverpool ahead of the weekend.
The uncomfortable truth to emerge from Saturday's draw was that, despite how much we wished it wasn't the case, Liverpool looked vastly improved from their more recent outings. It says more about just how bad they've been than it does about their ability to push further up the table---right now their biggest hope is that they can nudge ahead of Everton into 7th, and from there all they can do is try to hang on until season's end for the bragging rights over their neighbors.
So tomorrow's another chance for Liverpool to show improvement, and regardless of how it turns out there's bound to be some sort of negative reaction. Either they drop points and everyone points to how they're still unable to find any consistency, or they win and everyone says that of course they should have won, it's only Blackburn and etc. Which is fair, but it also ignores that this Liverpool side isn't as good as we hoped they'd be, and progress is progress regardless of how proud we want to be.
On March 21st Blackburn sat five points above the relegation zone (albeit with a game in hand over Bolton) after they'd won each of their last two---away to Wolves and home with Sunderland---by a 2-0 scoreline. Since then they've lost three straight, though, first to Bolton and then to Manchester United and West Brom. Their loss at the Hawthorns was the worst of the three, especially after they put up such a good fight against United, and left them in the bottom three yet again.
Tomorrow Kean will be without Anthony Modeste, who picked up a red card in the loss to West Brom, as well as longer-term absentees Michel Salgado and Vincent Grella. Martin Olsson picked up a knock over the weekend and will be a late decision. Likely starters include Yakubu and Junior Hoilett in attack, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Jason Lowe and Steven N'Zonzi in the midfield, and Scott Dann, Grant Hanley, Brad Orr, and, if fit, Olsson lining up in front of Paul Robinson in goal.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Flanagan Skrtel Coates Enrique
Downing Henderson Shelvey Maxi
---Kenny Dalglish reported no new injury concerns after Saturday's draw with Villa, leaving Lucas and Charlie Adam as the only confirmed absences. Lingering questions remain about the return dates for Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly, and Daniel Agger made the bench and had an impressive cameo late against Villa. Pepe Reina serves the second of his three-match ban.
---If one of Kelly or Johnson is close, it would make more sense to give Jon Flanagan another start and rest one of them until the weekend. Flanagan has been solid in his last two starts and works his ass off, and with that in short supply recently he's been fun to watch. Another start for Jamie Carragher might be likely, with Agger working his way back to match fitness and Sebastian Coates the clear fourth choice. If Fabio Aurelio's fit it'd be great to see him in action, even if only for the twenty-odd minutes he'd stay healthy. Jose Enrique plows forward on his own, it seems, until there's someone available to give him a badly-needed rest.
---We saw Saturday that a pairing of Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson could work, but that's with the cover and adaptability of Steven Gerrard further forward and wide. I still think they can make it serviceable despite neither being the strongest in the tackle, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jay Spearing came back in for either one. Whatever's done to avoid putting Jordan Henderson on the right, I'm in favor of---in this case, Stewart Downing on the right flank and Maxi on the left.
---Luis Suarez is going to start, and Andy Carroll served his penance for his petulance during his Newcastle return. There's been plenty of stats about how much better Liverpool's record has been with Carroll in the eleven, and also plenty of talk about the man mismanagement when it comes to the tall forward. That's not to excuse his poor displays, but at some point he either needs to play consistently or head elsewhere. Craig Bellamy could feature, but with the semi-final looming in five days' time, it'd make sense for him to start in London rather than Lancashire.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Liverpool's form and place in the table is not good enough, full stop. And matches like Saturday's and tomorrow's are ones that the club should be winning, just as they should have won matches at QPR and at home with Wigan. The rallying cry has often been that they "haven't gotten what they deserve," which sounds nice and fits in isolation. But Liverpool mostly have been getting what they deserve this season, and it just so happens that what they deserve is disappointing draws and miserable losses (edit: as Khaine pointed out, this mostly applies to the past few months, and that was my main focus with that sentence, despite not being clear about that). They haven't applied themselves with any great urgency at any point this season, and the results have reflected that. We saw them start to do that a bit more on Saturday, and they'll need to continue to do that if they want to see the season out on a high note.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 8:00PM GMT/3:00PM EST, with viewing options in both England and the US---Sky Sports 1 will carry live coverage in the UK, with Fox Soccer Channel airing it in the US. That's good news for those hoping to catch the match streaming online, and we'll have the links for those in the matchday thread early tomorrow. We'll have the team sheets around an hour before kickoff, and you can join us here or over on Twitter.
Good luck surviving Monday, and hopefully we'll see you back here tomorrow ahead of the match.