And so we enter another most critical stretch of Liverpool's season. Only this time it seems like it's a real thing, as tomorrow's match at Aston Villa rings in a run of matches that will see Liverpool participate in knockout matches in three separate competitions and have a chance to make up ground in the table in the fourth. For all the talk of "must-win" matches at any point earlier in the season, they've reached the point that their hopes of silverware and European qualification depend on it.
Starting at Villa Park might not seem the most ceremonious of occasions, but considering that the reverse fixture and the tendency of Paul Lambert's side to frustrate Liverpool during Brendan Rodgers' tenure, they'll need to set up to get a result in what's been a challenging but winnable fixture on the Premier League calendar in recent seasons.
Lambert will have new signing Carles Gil to call upon, and Nathan Baker and rumored Liverpool target Fabian Delph will be available for selection as well. Joe Cole is likely out with a hamstring injury, while Philippe Senderos and Ron Vlaar are out longer-term. Villa will be without Ciaran Clark, who earned a red card in the loss against Leicester City. Jores Okore, Alan Hutton, and former Liverpool loanee Aly Cisshoko should start in defense with Brad Guzan in goal, with Tom Cleverly, Charles N'Zogbia, Ashley Westwood, and Kieran Richardson in midfield, and Andreas Wiemann, Gaby Agbonlahor, and Christian Benteke available in attack.
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Lucas Moreno
Liverpool are finally close to full strength once again, with Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard, and Glen Johnson back in training. Sturridge and Johnson will miss out along with Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen, and Brad Jones, but Lallana and Gerrard could make the bench. Rest shouldn't be an issue, as Liverpool have finally had a full week off.
The largely excellent performance at Sunderland last weekend means little should change; Gerrard's injury leaves him out of the starting eleven, and the most straightforward switch would be to bring Raheem Sterling in for the captain with Fabio Borini retaining his spot up top and Lazar Markovic at right wingback. The back three should remain unchanged, with Emre Can, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho in front of Simon Mignolet and Alberto Moreno operating as the left wingback.
Brendan Rodgers sung the praises of Jordan Henderson and Lucas in central midfield yesterday, which should signal a continued chance for them to partner in the middle. The vice-captain looks revitalized since shifting centrally, while the Brazilian is on his way back to his pre-injury form as he prolongs his Anfield future. Prior to the last few weeks there haven't been many opportunities for them to partner, but they've quickly struck up an understanding, and it needs to continue tomorrow.
As mentioned, Sterling should come back into the team after his midseason break, with Coutinho nailed-on to start in a role off the striker and Borini with a chance to keep his place as well. Rodgers could go with Mario Balotelli at striker, which would also be welcomed in some ways, but Borini looked lively up top against his former loan club and might be worth another shot.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST on Saturday, with viewing options available in tomorrow's matchday thread. 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.