As far as momentum-builders go, Sunday's win at QPR was probably not the best. It was a win, which is a good thing, and it somehow leaves Liverpool joint-fourth on points in the Premier League. Which, if we're being honest, seems fake, but if Liverpool can be on the edge of a Champions League spot after eight matches that have seen them play respectable football for approximately 150-odd minutes, there's some hope in the idea of how things will shake out once they put it all together.
Tomorrow would be a hell of a time to start, as it's the one of the biggest matches Liverpool will have hosted in European competition in over half a decade. A return to the Champions League promised the types of nights Anfield hasn't seen in that time period, and there are few occasions bigger than hosting the holders in a match that sees two of the competition's most successful clubs meet.
It's fun to draw on the 5-0 aggregate win in the 2008-2009 season, but in the more recent past Real Madrid have swept past Liverpool in terms of status on the continent, culminating in La Decima last season. They're perfect in the competition this season, easing to a 5-1 victory over Basel in the opener and fighting their way to a difficult 2-1 win away to Ludogorets last time out.
Domestically it's been slightly more bumpy, with two losses in their first eight matches leaving them four points behind Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table. Aside from those two matches--a 4-2 loss to Real Sociedad and a narrow 2-1 defeat to Atletico--they've scored goals for fun, hitting Deportivo La Coruña for eight goals and Athletic Bilbao, Elche, and Levante for five apiece.
Carlo Ancelotti will be without Gareth Bale, however, as the Welshman is expected to miss tomorrow night and this weekend's El Clasico with a thigh injury. Sergio Ramos missed out on international duty for Spain and didn't make the squad to face Levante over the weekend, and is part of a collective that includes Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane about whom Ancelotti expects to make a late decision on. Even with those names missing, there's plenty of firepower; Cristiano Ronaldo will of course lead the way, with the likes of Luka Modric, James Rodriguez, Isco, and Javier Hernandez available to provide support going forward. Toni Kroos will likely start as well, and Sami Khedira is available in the midfield that could also feature Asier Illarramendi. In the absence of Ramos, Pepe, Nacho, Daniel Carvajal, and Marcelo featured in defense against Levante.
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
No news is good news on the injury front, as Brendan Rodgers' squad survived the trip to QPR with no fresh injury concerns. Emre Can and Joe Allen both featured for significant portions of the match, with Allen looking the fresher of the pair, and Glen Johnson completed his first ninety minutes since returning from injury prior to the international break. Daniel Sturridge, Jon Flanagan, Suso, and Mamadou Sakho are ruled out.
There's a few big decisions for Rodgers to make throughout the squad; it starts at the back, where most assume that Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno will come in for Johnson and Jose Enrique. No question that Enrique drops out after a terrible performance on Sunday, but Rodgers could stick with Johnson for experience on such a big night. However, Manquillo's been the better of the pair on the season, albeit on limited evidence, and should get the nod along with Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren.
From the midfield forward is more puzzling; Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson will feature, as will Raheem Sterling, but the rest of the front six is up for grabs. Philippe Coutinho was excellent against QPR and could very well start here, but Allen's could be needed to stabilize the midfield. On a coinflip we'll say Coutinho, but Allen seems just as likely. And it might not even be one or the other, with others possibly dropping to the bench, though Adam Lallana seems likely back in the eleven after coming off early in the second half on Sunday. Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, and Fabio Borini could be in the mix as well.
Whatever the case, it's clear that Balotelli needs more support up top if he's going to start, and Rodgers will have to find a way to accommodate a player who's yet to find his footing if he is going to start. Bringing Sterling into a more direct supporting role wouldn't be too radical a departure from what Rodgers has put together since Sturridge has been out, though Borini is the more natural fit. Dropping Balotelli is also a possibility, at least according to Jamie Carragher, and whatever Rodgers decides to do, it's looking like both he and his squad will have to produce their best performances of the season to get a result.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST, with Sky Sports 5 carrying coverage in the UK and Fox Sports One airing the match in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.