The stretch we were waiting for has arrived, albeit under less than ideal circumstances--we've lamented the lack of more frequent football for Liverpool through continental competition and international breaks, and now that we've got more than one match in a week, we're almost wishing we didn't. The loss to Hull dampened spirits to the point that we're now worrying that Liverpool will enter the month's most difficult stretch having already fallen too far off the pace after what was supposed to be the easier run of fixtures.
So, normal service resumed.
Norwich are the middle part of that supposedly easy stretch, and while they've had a rough season to this point, they've also won two of three since their 7-0 defeat at Manchester City in early November. A strong second half performance against Sam Allardyce's West Ham squad led them to a 3-1 victory immediately after their humiliation at the Eastlands, and in their most recent fixture they earned a narrow 1-0 win over new manager Tony Pulis and relegation-bound Crystal Palace.
Manager Chris Hughton has found his job in jeopardy given their struggles, and tomorrow he'll be without summer signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Anthony Pilkington, and Robert Snodgrass. Against Crystal Palace, Hughton went with John Ruddy in goal, Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong, Ryan Bennett, and Martin Olsson across the back, Johnny Howson, Leroy Fer, Wes Hoolahan, and Nathan Redmond in the midfield, and Johan Elmander and Gary Hoooper leading the attack.
Johnson Agger Sakho Flanagan
Henderson Alberto Coutinho
No physical injuries from the weekend, and Brendan Rodgers' report yesterday seems to indicate that Philippe Coutinho is back to full health, or at least close enough to get the start tomorrow. Iago Aspas' inclusion on the bench on Sunday should also mean that he's ready if called upon. Jose Enrique remains out through the month, and Daniel Sturridge is expected to miss the next nine league matches with an ankle injury that was partially incurred while his resolve was being tested. Sebastian Coates continues to step up his rehab with a view to returning to action near season's end.
There's some sort of game Rodgers is playing with Liverpool's defense, and that game needs to change from let's see who I pick next to let's stop conceding so many goals. I think bringing in Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger gives Liverpool their best chance at keeping a clean sheet right now, because I prefer the former to everyone and I prefer the latter to both Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure. Agger's experienced a strange "absence makes the heart grow more jaded" phenomenon over the past few weeks, and there's really no compelling reason, or at least not one that leaves him much worse off than Skrtel or Toure, for that to be the case other than lots of people are doing it so we should too.
The midfield is in need of a shake-up even if there isn't one coming; Joe Allen should start in my mind, and let's throw Luis Alberto in for good measure to create a more dynamic midfield four/five with one of Steven Gerrard, Lucas, or Jordan Henderson dropping out. Bringing Allen in helps with possession and retention, and including both Alberto and Coutinho gives Luis Suarez the creative support he was lacking at the KC Stadium. And because reality is for idiots I'll guess that Gerrard is rested, with Lucas and Henderson keeping their spots from the weekend. Unless Aspas comes into the side--assuming Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses drop out--it'll be Suarez alone up top, hopefully in the mood to continue his remarkable scoring record against Norwich.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PMEST, with NBC Sports Live Extra/NBC Sports Extra Time set to air the match live in the US. No listings are currently available for UK viewers. The overnight open thread will be up later, and the matchday post will run a few hours ahead of the start time with teamsheets included an hour before things get going. 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.