The days are getting shorter, and while the next few weeks promise some time off from the club football, the time between matches is about to lessen dramatically as well. Liverpool won't take part in a Premier League match after tomorrow until the visit to Goodison for the derby on November 23rd, but what follows is an absolutely jam-packed calendar that will largely determine whether or not Liverpool can actually count themselves in for the top four conversation as 2014 gets going.
Looking past tomorrow would be a mistake, of course, though Brendan Rodgers could be forgiven for eyeing the post-break slate with more than a little apprehension. There's a handful of "winnable" matches in there to go along with those likely to induce a few sleepless nights; as I mentioned after the loss at Arsenal, Liverpool are set to face four of the current top seven by the end of January, all away from home. They'll also face five sides placed tenth or worse, however, and that starts tomorrow with Fulham's visit.
It's been a rough start to the season for Martin Jol's side, who sit just two points above Norwich in the relegation zone. They've lost three straight in all competitions, including two losses in league (away at Southampton and home to Manchester United) and a 4-3 defeat at Leicester City in the League Cup last Tuesday. They've managed to sprinkle wins throughout, but the season's first few months have been largely disappointing for Jol and company.
They'll be without Sascha Riether tomorrow due to a three-match ban for stamping on Adnan Januzaj in the 1-3 loss last weekend, and Brede Hangeland and Bryan Ruiz could miss out through injury, though Hangeland might be ready. Ruiz and Riether started against United, as Jol went with Maarten Stekelenburg in goal, Philippe Senderos, Fernando Amorebieta, and Kieran Richardson across the back, Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker in central midfield with Pajtim Kasamit and Ashkan Dejegah wide and Ruiz supporting Dimitar Berbatov up front. Aaron Hughes might tcome in at the back, while former Liverpool youngster Alex Kacaniklic or QPR loanee Adel Taarabt could start in place of Ruiz.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Cissokho
The above is informed largely by the Bib Theory etceteras that Noel mentioned yesterday; as much as possible we're going to start to integrate those observations here, which allows for discussion that's a bit more related to the task at hand. I'll be playing around with the formatting, especially on days when I might disagree with what's suggested from training photos.
There's nothing new to report on the injury front, with Jose Enrique not quite ready and Iago Aspas out for a few more weeks. Sebastian Coates remains the only long-term absence. After a brief bit of panic during the week, Luis Suarez will be eligible for selection.
What's suggested at the back represents a change in both personnel and formation; Glen Johnson will thankfully be back and ready to go, and it seems that Martin Skrtel will retain his place with Daniel Agger making his first start in weeks. That's bound to be met with contention if it holds true, as general consensus has Mamadou Sakho as the most consistent central defender in the past month. Both Sakho and Kolo Toure would drop out, while Enrique's lack of fitness means another start for Aly Cissokho, who performed poorly at the Emirates.
Steven Gerrard's hip injury is apparently not enough to keep him out of the lineup; there should be little surprise here, and he'll likely partner Lucas in central midfield yet again. Joe Allen will probably be forced to wait his turn even further, with December's slate the most promising for playing time. Jordan Henderson should be included as well, with Philippe Coutinho expected to provide the link between midfield and attack.
Maybe it's 4-2-2-2, 4-2-3-1, or 4-1-2-1-2, but whatever it is, we're left with the same conclusion--numbers are stupid, and Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez will start up front. The frustrations of last Saturday's loss to Arsenal seem to be mostly gone, and I'd guess this week's training included a heavy emphasis on how to make sure the duo are regularly involved.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST, with NBC Sports Extra Time and NBC Sports Live Extra set to air the match live in the US. No listings are currently available in the UK. We'll have the overnight open thread set for late tonight, and the matchday thread will run first thing tomorrow with lineups published an hour ahead of the start time. If you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside and peek your head out with the rest of us.