So, an actual match, then. It feels like Liverpool have had far too many of these types of weeks over the past few seasons, with focus solely on off-pitch concerns and the only drama around the club reserved for self-inflicted wounds rather than matches that matter. That they've often involved Luis Suarez is unfortunate, but tomorrow--as was the case last season--they'll start a lengthy stretch without the striker.
Whether or not that stretch takes a much longer turn over the summer isn't worth the hand-wringing quite yet, although early returns indicate it's full steam ahead on transfer speculation. There'll be a time and place for that, but it's not nownownow just yet, so I feel like we're at least obligated to go through the motions of focusing on the more immediate future for Liverpool and every squad member not named Luis Suarez.
That future includes tomorrow's trip to Newcastle, which proved last season to was among Liverpool's most miserable away days. Pepe Reina was sent off, Andy Carroll lost a wonderful goal-scoring chance and his cool, and the whole sordid affair sent us into a dark, dark place. Results for Alan Pardew's side have been mixed of late--most notably a 0-3 hammering from Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby--but there's no doubt that there's enough talent in the Newcastle side to frustrate Liverpool in a similar fashion.
Pardew will have Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse available for selection, while Fabricio Coloccini and Hatem Ben Arfa are closer to returns but will likely miss out along with Tim Krul, who's out for the rest of the seaon with a dislocated shoulder. The core of the side's been mostly consistent, with Cisse leading from the front, and Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, and Yohan Cabaye providing support from the midfield. Jonas and James Perch have vacillated between wide roles in the midfield and defense lately, while Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and Mathieu Debuchy have been constants at the back with Robert Elliot set to replace Krul for the run-in.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Henderson Coutinho
Liverpool's fitness concerns look to be clearing up just in time for the season to be over, with Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini returning to training earlier in the week and Martin Kelly getting involved again over the past couple of days. Luis Suarez will serve the first of his ten-match ban as well.
With Kelly looking close to a return, we might finally see a shake-up across the back, but tomorrow will see the same back line continue. Jamie Carragher was impressive against Chelsea, and the unit as a whole were mostly solid, but once again set-piece defending proved to be the Achilles' heel. That's not only down to the back line and Pepe Reina, but they're far too vulnerable far too frequently.
Jordan Henderson looks to be re-established in the starting eleven, joining Steven Gerrard and Lucas as the first-choice midfield. They're not exactly the three-man setup that most had envisioned when Brendan Rodgers arrived, but with Henderson included consistently again, they seem to be settled. With Suarez out for the rest of the season, there aren't many other apparent options, with Jonjo Shelvey seemingly the only player likely to appear.
The rest seems straightforward enough--Daniel Sturridge comes straight in for Suarez, with Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho providing the width. It's the same eleven that started against Chelsea save for Suarez, and if Sturridge can have the similar type of effect as he did after coming on for the second half on Sunday, the absence of the Uruguayan might not be too damaging.
Kickoff is a bit later, with the start time set for 5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST. ESPN will air the match live in the UK, with Fox Soccer Channel showing it in the US. Team sheets will be released an hour before kickoff, and any other news--hopefully all of it related to the match and not the ongoing circus--will be posted leading up to the matchday thread. Hope you'll be around for it, and that we round tomorrow off talking only about the result.