Liverpool faced Bournemouth last year in the FA Cup, but despite an eventual 2-0 victory, there were concerns. Bournemouth were the better side to start as a tired, undermanned midfield anchored by Steven Gerrard struggled to win the centre of the park. Liverpool were unbalanced in their approach, and some players that likely should have been rotated weren't, but in the end it worked out.
That it did was largely thanks to Luis Suarez, who assisted on the first, and Daniel Sturridge, who scored the second. Neither, obviously, will be available on Wednesday night given one has been injured for nearly the entire season and the other has relocated to Catalonia. Most will also be expecting a bit more rotation this time around, if only because Rodgers rotated back to some of his regulars against Manchester United and it backfired.
Expecting a few of Liverpool's fringe players to be given a chance and actually getting that are two different things of course, particularly given Rodgers has proven one of the most stubborn managers in the league when it comes to squad selection. Still, it's almost impossible to imagine that Lucas Leiva isn't back at the base of the midfield tomorrow and that after a pair of promising cameos Lazar Markovic won't be given a chance to start.
Beyond those two, though, things become harder to pick apart. Joe Allen has been poor of late and Emre Can has done nothing but impress when given the chance. Allen, though, appears a Rodgers favourite while Can appears an unwanted afterthought, a player fans increasingly can't help but imagine must have been a transfer committee purchase that Rodgers didn't want. Which of them starts, then, is impossible to guess.
The same could be said at the back, where the match would seem to offer the perfect opportunity for Rodgers to try partnering Mamadou Sakho with Martin Skrtel. Yet Sakho, despite having an impressive international resume and, before his move to Liverpool, being considered one of the game's future defensive stars, has found himself stuck behind a player Rodgers appears to trust far more despite that he's done nothing to earn it.
Whoever starts for Liverpool will face a far more confident and dangerous Bournemouth side than last season. Last year, The Cherries were struggling near the bottom of the Championship table. This year, they're leading it, level on 39 points after 21 games with Middlesbrough and edging ahead on goals scored. This time around, they're a confident side that will be looking for the win rather than hoping for the upset.
And if Liverpool's defence is as shaky as it was against United—and as it often has been this season when Gerrard's been at the base of midfield and Dejan Lovren's been in the lineup—Bournemouth will have a real shot of doing just that because they score goals. Lots of goals. They're the Championship's highest scoring side, netting more than twice a match on average, with pacey striker Callum Wilson their leading threat with 12 so far.
Bournemouth signed the promising 22-year-old over the summer from League One's Coventry City for £3M, and the young striker has had no trouble adapting his game to the Championship and maintaining a better than one in two goal return. He's supported in attack by veterans Brett Pitman and Marc Pugh, both of whom have scored six goals so far this season as part of a side that's set up to attack first, second, and third.
For last season's Liverpool, a lower league opponent that likes to score but can be exploited at the back would be easy pickings. For this season's Liverpool side, one that has lost its ability to score while somehow getting even worse at the back themselves, it's a far nervier proposition, and if Liverpool's team selection takes victory for granted they will be punished just as West Brom and Cardiff already have been by Bournemouth in the cup.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST on Wednesday, with Sky Sport 1 providing coverage in the UK and beIN Sports carrying the match in the United States. Our coverage will continue with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into live coverage, team sheets an hour before kickoff, and post-match reaction. If you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation account and join us for it.