This is one of my favorite times of year, not only because there's matches coming thick and fast, but also for the amount of people that make the same see you next year lolol joke as though they're the first one to come up with it. I say this, of course, because my natural instinct when writing the opening for the preview was to say that we won't be doing this again until next year lolol and I'm really ashamed okay guys.
Just like that it's over, though, and we close the book on a largely successful 2013 and turn our gaze to 2014 once proceedings end in London tomorrow night. It's not likely to be without some pain--plenty of it deserved--regardless of the result, as this is the first meeting between Liverpool and Chelsea since their draw at Anfield in April. On that occasion, Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic, which tends to be the sort of thing that people don't remember with much fondness. Weird.
Jose Mourinho's return has ushered in title talk this season, and while he appears to have the squad to do it, he's also struggled to find his most consistent and effective eleven. Results have been relatively up and down overall, but they've yet to lose at home, extending Mourinho's Premier League unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge and sitting a point above Liverpool in third.
Mourinho will be without Ramires, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-0 win over Swansea on Boxing Day, but he otherwise looks to have a full-strength squad that can be rotated with seemingly little drop-off in quality. On Thursday, Gary Cahill, Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta, Fernando Torres, Andre Schurrle, and Frank Lampard all started on the bench, and there's probably a case for each to be included in some capacity tomorrow. On Boxing Day, Mourinho started with Petr Cech in goal, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, and Ashley Cole across the back, John Obi Mikel and Ramires deeper in central midfield, and Eden Hazard (who was again excellent), Oscar, and Juan Mata behind Samuel Eto'o up top.
Johnson Agger Sakho Cissokho
Allen Lucas Henderson
Sterling Suarez Coutinho
Brendan Rodgers confirmed that Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique, Daniel Sturridge, and Jon Flanagan remain sidelined, while Jordon Ibe was recently added to the ranks of the injured, meaning that the only changes in the squad will come if and when the manager decides to include another young name--Brad Smith very well could join again, thanks mostly to Jake's mind control--in the eighteen. Victor Moses will be ruled out due to the terms of his loan agreement, while Sebastian Coates continues his extended rehab spell.
Changes have to (maybe?) be coming with so many matches in quick succession, and I'm guessing we'll get at least one new face at the back. Have I mentioned that I'd like to see Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho play together? Oh, in that case, I'D LIKE TO SEE DANIEL AGGER AND MAMADOU SAKHO PLAY TOGETHER. Martin Skrtel looks like he needs a rest and is destined to have a penalty called on him for third-degree assault, and I also just sort of like Daniel Agger and want him to get some minutes. He's not perfect by any stretch, but this long layoff seems undeserved with Skrtel's sheen starting to dull. Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho will likely get starts again, although the former desperately needs to find some form before the club go shopping next week.
Based on energy levels alone I think the midfield trio could use some rotation, but aside from including Luis Alberto or shifting the formation to accommodate Iago Aspas, I don't think it happens. Each of Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson have been very good in the past few weeks, and even on tired legs they're capable of providing enough cover for one another that there isn't any compelling reason to change.
Up front might be a slightly different story; taking Philippe Coutinho off around the hour mark on Thursday appeared to be an acknowledgement of the Brazilian's growing frustration and fatigue over the course of the last month, but he remains the most consistently effective creator in the side. Same applies for Raheem Sterling, who could use some time off but will almost surely continue his run of starts in support of Luis Suarez in attack barring a surprise start for Aspas.
Kickoff is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra in the US. We'll have the overnight open thread up later tonight, with the matchday post running lineups an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside, where we'll have full coverage and lively in-game discussion for every match this season.