Liverpool host the club that defeated them in London just three days ago, with Chelsea visiting Anfield in the penultimate game of the 2011-2012 season. Both sides have secured European football via their respective domestic cup victories, and Chelsea chances at the top tier of European club football for next season locked into their date with Bayern Munich in two weeks.
So it's got all the makings of a meaningless end-of-season fixture, something that Liverpool have become far too familiar with in recent seasons. Yes, there's the added intrigue of the returns for two formerly-admired Liverpool players, and we'd always like for Liverpool matches to carry some sort of importance with them, but it'd be a stretch to say that there's much emotion tied up in tomorrow's match.
Which sadly fits in the context of the season, and the flattened affect is doubly appropriate after the loss at Wembley on Saturday. So close to creating meaning and joy only to come away with another reminder of how disappointing Liverpool have been this season. Flashes of potential once again undercut by the more pervasive problems that have demanded a solution since the early days of the campaign. Tomorrow promises nothing other than fleeting schadenfreude, and when that's the takeaway, there's clearly something wrong.
The sentiment in the Chelsea camp is likely the complete opposite despite Champions League qualification hanging in the balance at the Allianz Arena on May 19th---even if they take six points from their next two, they'll need Newcastle to slip at Everton (which isn't completely far-fetched) and Spurs to throw it away at home against Fulham (again, not off the table after their draw with Villa). If they beat Bayern, though, they'll take the fourth spot regardless, with only the top three qualifying automatically. They've been the form club of late, and winning a trophy on Saturday should only strengthen their optimism.
Little more is needed by way of introduction for Roberto Di Matteo's squad, although they're likely to rotate more familiar names into the eleven, with Fernando Torres widely expected to start after sitting out the entirety of Saturday's match and Raul Meireles only playing 15 minutes at the end. There's not as many options at the back, with Gary Cahill and David Luiz still expected to be missing, but Paulo Ferreira and Ryan Bertrand could feature in the fullback slots. Florent Malouda and Daniel Sturridge could flank Torres in attack, and Michael Essien may feature in the middle along with Meireles.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Carragher Coates Aurelio
Kuyt Shelvey Henderson Maxi
---Lucas and Charlie Adam remain the only confirmed absences for the remainder of the season, with no new injuries to report after Saturday's FA Cup Final.
---A rest is likely for many that took part on Saturday, and I'd be up for wholesale changes throughout the Liverpool defense. Pepe Reina could be rested in favor of Doni, who looks to be on his way out in the summer, and nearly all of the back four have capable and fit backups. Martin Kelly could use minutes, Jamie Carragher seems likely to see out the season after featuring sparingly, Sebastian Coates is in the same camp as Kelly, and hopefully Fabio Aurelio is fit enough to see out his Liverpool career with a start or two.
---Similar prospect in the midfield, but with both Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson playing significant minutes on Saturday, it's probable that one of the two will again feature. Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey have formed a decent pairing in the middle despite neither being a prototypical destroyer, and starts seem to be set for Dirk Kuyt and Maxi on the flanks. Suffice to say that it's wildly concerning that tomorrow is the last time we see either in a Liverpool shirt.
---Andy Carroll absolutely must start, and while it could be a stretch for Suarez after playing a full ninety on the weekend, I can't recall seeing the Uruguayan as active as he's been in recent weeks. That's more on Kenny Dalglish's tactics than it is Suarez, and I'd like to see him and Carroll get at least a few minutes together before season's end. If he's rested, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kuyt up front with Carroll and another name coming in to the midfield---just not Steven Gerrard, unless he's on the right and Henderson stays in the middle.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
It's hard to imagine that tomorrow doesn't carry much excitement with it given the recent history between the clubs, but here we are. There's surely enough potential for that to change in the next 24 hours, with plenty of reasons to have a basic level of anxiety and expectation. But I can't shake the blasé feeling that's sunk in since the final whistle at the weekend, and at this point I'd almost prefer to skip to the summer and (hopefully) see the change process start to unfold. Liverpool can't afford to feel similarly, though, and will have to push past the weekend's disappointment if they're going to get anything from their last home match of the season other than the farewell lap.
Sky Sports 1 will have the match live in England, and Fox Soccer Channel airs it live from 8:00PM BST/3:00PM EST. We'll have links for any streams that are available in the matchday thread as well, and that post will have team sheets around an hour or so before kickoff. You can join up with us and everyone else either in the comments of the matchday thread or on our Twitter account, where we've managed to continue a steady output of brief nonsense despite how depressed we've been.
Hope you've had a nice start to the week, and we'll see you back here tomorrow.