Without actually looking, this had to be one of the more costly international breaks in recent memory for Liverpool. There was the fact that it once again came far too early, halting any sort of momentum created by an encouraging win, but with at least four players injured at one point or another, this break proved particularly painful. No long-term damage appeared to be done, with only one layoff expected to last beyond the month of September, but with fixtures in three separate competitions on the immediate horizon, it's cause for concern.
A busy summer means the concern isn't too grave, however, and Liverpool's squad is now deep enough to absorb a decent amount of the impact from the trouble this past week and a half has caused. In the past two seasons they'd have had to turn to the academy for bodies, but the summer's business means there won't be quite as much panic as Liverpool work their way through the busiest stretch of the early season.
They start that stretch with what's become a bogey fixture of late; Paul Lambert's Aston Villa have been terrific at Anfield for three halves of football across the past two seasons, very nearly taking six points from six and generally dominating their hosts with quick, counterattacking football. Villa arrive tomorrow having started the season unbeaten through their first three league fixtures, with a slip-up against Leyton Orient in the League Cup their only setback thus far. Through four matches in all competitions they've only scored four goals, though, with 1-0 proving enough on the opening day against Stoke, a 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle, the 1-0 loss to Leyton Orient, and a 2-1 win over Hull just before the break.
Part of that might be due to the absence of Christian Benteke, who isn't expected to return to action until the start of October. Libor Kozak is ruled out as well, but Ron Vlaar should be available and will likely join loan signing Tom Cleverly in the squad. Against Hull, Lambert went with Brad Guzan in goal, Vlaar, Alan Hutton, Philippe Senderos, and Aly Cissokho at the back, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Kieran Richardson, and Charles N'Zogbia through the midfield, and Andi Weimann and Gaby Agbonlahor up front. Jack Grealish, Darren Bent, and Carlos Sanchez all featured off the bench, with Joe Cole included in the squad as well.
Manquillo Lovren Sakho Moreno
Sterling Balotelli Lallana
The current injury list is long and distinguished; Emre Can, Joe Allen, and Daniel Sturridge all came back from the international break with fitness concerns, with only Allen in the running to make the squad tomorrow. Can will miss six weeks with an ankle injury and Sturridge is out three with a thigh strain, and they'll join Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, and Jon Flanagan in the stands.
Without Johnson and Skrtel, Brendan Rodgers looks set to go with the same back four that featured against Spurs two weekends ago. That's arguably their best in terms of talent, but there's a fair bit to go in terms of cohesion, particularly between Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho in the center. Sakho was dominant in his one appearance during the international break against Spain, and hopefully he'll carry that form into Liverpool's busy September slate. Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno should keep their places at right- and left-back, respectively, with Jose Enrique again on the bench.
Allen has been terrific through Liverpool's first three matches, and if he is ruled out, Rodgers will have to do some thinking about who joins Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard. Can would have been the easy choice were he not injured himself, and while Lucas is a possibility, his absence from the squads against Spurs and Manchester City seems to indicate that he's not in the thinking for the regular starting eleven. What appears more likely is that one of Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana comes into a deeper role, with the other operating in a more advanced position in attack.
It's possible that Lazar Markovic gets his first start as well, but Coutinho and Lallana seem the easy choices to round out the front six. Coutinho deeper and Lallana coming in to join Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling would be just fine, thanks, which leaves Markovic available off the bench along with Rickie Lambert to have an impact in the second half.
Kickoff is set for 5:30PM BST/12:30PM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBC/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.