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Which Fringe Players are Most Likely to Have an Impact?

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With Liverpool's most daunting stretch of the season upon us, there's a chance for a number of the lesser-used players in Liverpool's squad to make an impact if given the opportunity.

Jamie McDonald

Aside from his defensive unit, Brendan Rodgers has shown a relative amount of consistency in selecting his starting eleven. Defensive rotation has led to hand-wringing at times, but moving forward there's been a relative predictability to who features. With more frequent fixtures and fitness issues complicating things through the holiday period, however, the second-year Liverpool manager has had to change things up from what looked to be a settled first eleven. Deviations have mostly been temporary and minimal; Rodgers still frustrates with substitutions and sticks with certain players far too long, a tendency that will need to change as the season progresses.

For now that's opened the door for a few of the fringe players to feature on a more consistent basis, most notably in the form of Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling. The former has stepped in with Jose Enrique injured and Aly Cissokho performing poorly; as was the case when he first featured under Kenny Dalglish, Flanagan has proved steady and reliable despite not offering the dynamism of Enrique. For Sterling it's been a return to the first-team after finding minutes few and far between for most of the calendar year, and as the past few weeks have progressed--with three consecutive starts--he's made significant improvements in form confidence.

Both fill a specific need in the squad, and both will be asked to continue to do so until Enrique and Daniel Sturridge make their respective returns. Beyond those two there's more questions, though, and it's likely that at least a few of the also-rans--especially in attack--will be asked to make a contribution in the coming weeks.

Luis Alberto hasn't been far from supporters' thoughts in recent weeks, and for many he's one of the first names in. He's impressed in his brief cameos to this point, though with Rodgers hesitant to give him a full start thus far, it's hard to expect too much with so many important fixtures on the immediate horizon. Depending on the situation, Victor Moses likely precedes the young Spaniard in the pecking order, especially if pace and a threat from the wide area is needed. His form has been less than stellar when given chances of late, but much of the decline seems best attributed to lack of playing time and featuring in an unfamiliar central role.

Beyond those two, it feels optimistic to suggest that Iago Aspas is going to have a large part to play, even with Luis Suarez left to carry Liverpool's attack on his own. Rumors of a January exit feel irresponsible and premature, as there are zero senior strikers available in the squad if Suarez is ruled out for any reason prior to Sturridge's return. A chance prior to that point might come against Cardiff or in the FA Cup during the first weekend of January, but anything further seems contingent on the fitness of others.

Defensively things are far less compelling--Cissokho will continue to be second choice to Flanagan, although like Aspas, a chance might come against Cardiff, and Martin Kelly's eternal slog back to full fitness means he's likely going to be used for brief spells similar to what we saw against West Ham last weekend. The central defensive shuffle may well continue, but calling any of the current first-team center-backs "fringe" would be a stretch considering the willingness of the manager to shake things up.

For now there's simple answers to Liverpool's first eleven, and it may very well end up that they work their way through the festive period without having to call on any of the aforementioned names with any sort of regularity. If they do, however, we're left to hope that whoever suddenly finds themselves in the spotlight can manage to produce regardless of their status to this point.