Four more weeks to go, which doesn't really seem possible considering it feels like just last week we were talking about Liverpool needing to really give it a go this season and hopefully end up with an outside shot at fourth or fifth. Progress would be slow, of course, but the project seemed stable and set up for success. Plenty of reasons to feel encouraged on the heels of a strong second half last season, just going to need to wait a few seasons to really talk about a title challenge.
So today it's April 19th, there's four matches left in the season, and Liverpool are in control of the title race. A win tomorrow secures automatic Champions League qualification, which now, silly as it sounds, wouldn't be enough to meet expectations. Heady stuff, but there will be time for that later. Tomorrow the task is Norwich City and only Norwich City.
Norwich have been in or around the drop zone for most of the season; Chris Hughton was a thoroughly likable man but never quite got the club pushing forward, and his dismissal earlier this month took far longer than many had expected. New manager Neil Adams has only overseen one match since replacing Hughton, a 1-0 loss at Fulham last Saturday that saw the Canaries denied a number of chances to take the lead or draw level.
Adams will be without Joseph Yobo and Elliott Bennett yet again, but there are no other concerns on the injury front. At Fulham, they lined up with John Ruddy in goal, Russell Martin, Steven Whittaker, Michael Turner, and Martin Olsson at the back, Bradley Johnson, Robert Snodgrass, Jonathan Howson, and Leroy Fer through the midfield, and Nathan Redmond coming in from the wide areas with Ricky van Wolfswinkel--who hasn't scored since the opening day of the season--in attack. Gary Hooper, Wes Hoolahan, and Josh Murphy each came off the bench, with Javier Garrido, Alexander Tettey, and Ryan Bennett included in the squad as well.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Flanagan
Lucas Gerrard Allen
Sterling Suarez Coutinho
Slightly more laborious this time around in terms of players ruled out, with Daniel Sturridge a late decision and Jordan Henderson serving the first of his three-match ban for a bad tackle late in the win over Manchester City. Jose Enrique will be out for the remainder of the season, but Brendan Rodgers should have all others available for selection.
The absence of both Sturridge and Henderson could be key given how important they've been; the former has played every match he's been fit for, while the latter has played in every match. Sturridge's recent dry spell means that Luis Suarez takes the goalscoring load over once again, a task he performed to great effect earlier in the season, but Henderson's industry and workrate might prove far more difficult to replace.
What seems likely--skipping past a mostly unchanged defensive unit, though I'll guess Daniel Agger comes back in for Mamadou Sakho because it just feels right--is that both Joe Allen and Lucas come into the midfield, with Philippe Coutinho pushing up to one flank (likely the left), Raheem Sterling on the other, and Suarez operating centrally.
There's not quite as much fluidity, and Sturridge's absence takes away the chance to go with two strikers at any point barring an appearance by Iago Aspas or another new position for Raheem Sterling. But it's essentially the same setup that we saw when Sturridge and Steven Gerrard were injured during December. Gerrard plays the Lucas role, Lucas plays the Allen role, and Allen plays the Henderson role. Both Lucas and Allen have been impressive in their most recent extended run-outs, and I'd be surprised if Rodgers opted to go with Victor Moses or Iago Aspas rather than both of Allen and Lucas.
Kickoff is set for 12:00PM BST/7:00AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra airing the match live 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.