With a mixture of relief and sadness, the season finally comes to a close tomorrow in Wales. Swansea City welcome Liverpool in the the last act of the campaign, with both sides looking to finish off the year on a high note. It's been a decidedly more positive year for the hosts than it has been for the visitors, with Elvis-inspired celebrations among Swans supporters set for tomorrow, and those of a Liverpool persuasion yet again looking to turn the page.
It feels a bit hollow to do much lamenting for a season I wasn't very fond of, so we'll skip most of the nice-nice and just say that, despite all the troubles Liverpool have endured since August, this season has somehow managed to finish with a glimmer of optimism---whether it's the individual play of a handful of squad members, the promise of improvement in the summer, or just the mere fact that it's finally over, I've noticed the slightest bit of reality-defying positivity creep into the collective consciousness over the past few weeks. Or it's just the new shirts.
So finishing tomorrow isn't a bad thing by any stretch, with a decent couple of hours in their more immediate rear-view and European football on the horizon at the end of the summer. There's the formality of tomorrow to get through, though, and it'd be nice if they ended the season with a win. It'll be the third consecutive season they finish away from Anfield, with a bore draw at Hull on the final day of the Rafa Benitez era and a loss at Villa last season decided by Stewart Downing's last Premier League goal.
Swansea will pose just as much, if not more, of a threat as each of Liverpool's last two final day hosts, as Brendan Rodgers has had the Welsh side playing some of the league's most aesthetically pleasing football. They've also been surprisingly effective despite many of the doubts entering the season, which led to Rodgers' call for supporters to dress up after they were welcomed to the Premier League with pronouncements that it was just as likely to see Elvis as it was Swansea staying in the top flight.
They've been comfortable for some time now, though, and they were boosted tremendously by the arrival of now-rumored Liverpool target Gylfi Sigurdsson on loan in January. He added quality to an already effective Swansea setup, with Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair providing pace in the wide areas, Danny Graham as the target man up top, and a midfield with Mark Gower, Leon Britton, and Joe Allen to choose from. Michael Vorm's anchored the defense with a terrific season in goal, and Nigel Rangel, Steven Caulker, Neil Taylor, and Ashley Williams have seen most of the minutes across the back.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Carragher Coates Enrique
Kuyt Shelvey Henderson Maxi
---Once again it's Charlie Adam and Lucas as the only ones out through any sort of publicized injury, although both Steven Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio missed out on Tuesday.
---The adjusted back line against Chelsea pushed Daniel Agger to left back and Martin Skrtel to the left side of central midfield, and rather than displace both in service of Jamie Carragher's extended farewell tour, I'm in favor of giving them an early vacation and starting Sebastian Coates alongside Carragher. Martin Kelly might have a shot ahead of Glen Johnson, and there's word that Jack Robinson's been included in the squad, but I doubt he edges out Jose Enrique.
---Gerrard's fitness obviously informs the way the midfield lines up, and if he starts that'll push either Jonjo Shelvey or Jordan Henderson, both of whom have impressed of late, out of the side. The non-negotiables should be Dirk Kuyt and Maxi, with firmly-founded expectations that they'll be taking part in their last match in a Liverpool shirt. Do whatever you want with everyone else, but give us Kuyt and Maxi and a negative amount of Stewart Downing.
---Also, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. Suarez has been the catalyst in much of anything that's been encouraging around Liverpool for the past few months, and Carroll's improvements have been well documented of late. Craig Bellamy could also feature in some capacity, but I think Suarez and Carroll are locks, and I don't want to see Kuyt or Maxi pushed out.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
There's still some pride left to be found in the wrap-up, with many pointing towards the opportunity to finish above Everton in the table with a win tomorrow. The other half of Merseyside will have some work to do, with Newcastle visiting in search of an outside shot at Champions League qualification. There's a very real possibility of dropped points for David Moyes' side, leaving Liverpool with the potential for silverware, European football, and a spot in the table above their neighbors.
There's no listing in England for tomorrow's 3:00PM BST/10:00AM EST kickoff, but stateside viewers can catch the match on FuelTV as part of Fox's Survival Sunday coverage. For all their lesser qualities---of which they do have many---the US network rounded up as many available slots as possible, and will be showing all but one of the final day's matches on their variety of stations. If you don't get FuelTV or aren't in the states and don't get television coverage, streams should be fairly easy to come by, and we'll have links for those in the matchday thread. That post will also have team sheets around an hour before kickoff, and you can join in the season's final comment section there or catch up with us on Twitter.
Hope you all had a nice end of the week/start to the weekend, and we'll see you back here tomorrow.