It's been a decent week for Liverpool. Five goals and their most comprehensive performance to date under Brendan Rodgers at White Hart Lane on Sunday, and earlier today we get news that Luis Suarez has signed a new deal that ostensibly keeps him at the club through 2018. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen, but what's undeniable at this point is that the mood around the club is as good as it's been in years.
The next few weeks can put a slight damper on that, though general consensus seems to be that regardless of what happens as 2014 takes hold, Liverpool are set up to make a genuine challenge for Champions League football. We're scared to talk about it or let it feel too good, but Liverpool are set up as well as they've been in years to be in the discussion at season's end. Chances are we'll be holding our collective breath from now until May, but you really wouldn't want it any other way.
Tomorrow's fixture is one that has taken on more significance given Liverpool's standing in the table; Cardiff are the least challenging of Liverpool's next three opponents, and yet this is the one where most of the pressure lies, albeit not because of anything Cardiff--or more accurately, their owner--have done. To say the club are in turmoil would be an understatement, with Vincent Tan publicly berating manager Malky Mackay's statements regarding the transfer window and, more recently, expecting him to resign in the immediate future.
On the pitch things haven't been too much better; there aren't any injury concerns for Mackay (or whoever will be in charge tomorrow) other than a potential miss for Craig Bellamy, which would be sad but also good given his goalscoring record against his former clubs, but they sit just four points off the relegation zone after winning just twice since October. One of those wins came last weekend against West Brom at home, where they've managed a number of impressive results. It's been a different story outside of Wales, however, and they'll have to improve their away form if they're going to get anything out of their visit to Anfield. Against West Brom, Mackay went with David Marshall in goal, Andrew Taylor, Steven Caulker, Ben Turner, and Kevin Theopile at the back, with Gary Medel, Craig Noone, Petter Whittingham, and Jordan Mutch in the midfield, and Fraizer Campbell and Peter Odemwingie in attack.
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Henderson Lucas Allen
Sterling Suarez Coutinho
No news is relatively good news on the injury front. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, and Jose Enrique remain sidelined into January with their respective fitness issues, while Sebastian Coates continues to rehab long-term. Barring any late scratches or injuries in training, Brendan Rodgers should have the same names available as he did at Spurs last weekend.
And he shouldn't change any of them, regardless of the fact that Manchester City and Chelsea loom on the immediate horizon. Cardiff present an "easier" task, but as others have rightly pointed out, this is the one that demands Liverpool get all three points. Anything beyond a point or two at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge would be a bonus; all three tomorrow at Anfield are vital.
That means the same defensive solidity we saw against an inept and disjointed Spurs attack, with Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan in the fullback roles and Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho partnering in central defense ahead of Simon Mignolet in goal. It means Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson in a midfield three, setting the tone with possession and pressing. And, of course, it means Luis Suarez leading the attack up top, aided by the improved Raheem Sterling on the right and Philippe Coutino--who will spend a good bit of his time centrally as well--on the left. Changes may come, but I don't want to see Rodgers tinker too much, especially if it gets in the way of the momentum that's developed over the past two weeks.
Kickoff is an early one, with the start time set for 12:45PM GMT/7:45AM EST. The match will be aired live on BT Sport in the UK, with NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US. We'll have the overnight open thread up tonight to lead into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have lineups an hour before things get going. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.