The slow march to season's end continues tomorrow, with one match at a time our only offering through the middle of May. Last weekend's proceedings didn't provide much in the way of inspiration--by the end it was an all too familiar sight, and while there's more important-seeming matches on the near horizon, it was disappointing to see Liverpool regress to the type of disaffected display they produced against West Ham.
Those important-seeming matches--Chelsea and Everton at Anfield with Newcastle away in between--aren't here just yet, though, and Liverpool will have to overcome any sort of complacency that tends to accompany matches in which there's little to play for. Europe's all but off the table, leaving Brendan Rodgers' side without any sort of identifiable purpose, meaning they'll have to work to find it if they're going to see the season out on a good note.
Considering their spot in the table, Reading have nothing but pride left to play for as well, currently stapled to the bottom of the table and a full ten points from safety. They're mostly setting up to put in another promotion challenge next season, bringing in Nigel Adkins to replace Brian McDermott in the midst of a miserable stretch that's seen them lose seven straight. They looked to be climbing towards safety during January, going unbeaten in four of five to start 2013, but they're now certainties to start the 2013-2014 season in the Championship.
Jimmy Kebe and Hope Akpan are likely to miss out for Adkins, and Adam Federici could be a doubt in goal after an ankle injury against Southampton. They should have an otherwise full-strength squad to choose from, with Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood leading the way in a midfield that'll likely also include former Liverpool player Danny Guthrie. Adam Le Fondre could get a start up front in place of Pavel Pogrebnyak, while veterans Nicky Shorey and Stephen Kelly will anchor things at the other end.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Henderson Suarez Coutinho
Aside from Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini, it looks as though Liverpool will be without Raheem Sterling for the remainder of the season. Daniel Sturridge's fitness is up in the air, but he put in a solid shift against West Ham after Stewart Downing came off because of illness. For his part Downing should be through the woods, as he was passed fit a day or so after the draw at Anfield.
The defensive setup continues to pick itself, albeit more because of a lack of options than overwhelmingly positive form. There's always a chance that Andre Wisdom comes in for Glen Johnson, but it's doubtful that Brendan Rodgers opts to replace the off-form right-back at this point. Each of the other three were serviceable against West Ham on Sunday, while Johnson continued the slide that's marred his performances over the past few months.
Through the middle it seems straightforward as well, with Steven Gerrard and Lucas filling their typical roles. It'll be interesting to see if either of Jonjo Shelvey or Suso sees increased time at any point; Suso would obviously be playing a bit more advanced or on the wing, while Shelvey has played slightly deeper for the U21s at times. Nothing significant is likely, but they're both entering a summer that'll hopefully provide opportunities to head somewhere on loan.
Things might get interesting in the front four, as Downing and Sturridge both seem to be fit. Patience for the latter is justified and might see him start on the bench, and if that's the case then it'll be Downing-Henderson-Coutinho behind Luis Suarez up top. I'm curious what it'd look like with Jordan Henderson on the right, even though I'm probably still traumatized by how poorly he was last season. Tucking him in on that side, particularly with the fluid style of Sturridge and Suarez and Coutinho's adaptability.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST, which means UK viewing options are limited. Those stateside can catch the match on Fox Soccer Plus, and we'll have any other ways to follow live in the matchday thread. As always, you can catch up with us over on Twitter or in the comments--we'll likely be vacillating somewhere between wildly excited or insufferably depressed, so, you know, status quo.