The meaty part of Liverpool's crowded winter schedule is finally here, and it kicks off with three straight domestic cup ties. Their Europa League participation won't kick off until next month, but the stakes are high enough already, with each knockout competition now part of the Steven Gerrard silverware sendoff tour. The captain's exit at the end of this season coupled with Liverpool's league struggles means that the three remaining cup competitions are the club's only chance to see the long-serving captain lift a trophy before he makes his exit.
A two-legged Chelsea semifinal brings back fonder memories for Liverpool supporters, as each of their two Champions League finals in 2005 and 2007 were reached on the strength of victories over Chelsea. They last met in the League Cup in 2011, with goals from Maxi Rodriguez and Martin Kelly securing a 2-0 win in the quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge. Previously they faced off in the 2005 final, with Chelsea running out 3-2 winners via goals in extra time from Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman.
Recent times in knockout competition have generally been kinder to Chelsea than Liverpool, with the London club winning the FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League, and Champions League in the last decade. And while the League Cup might be lowest on the list of priorities for a Chelsea side that can reasonably expect to win at least one trophy, Jose Mourinho is expected to name a strong side, which has been the norm throughout the competition this season.
He should have a full squad to choose from, as Didier Drogba will be back from illness and Cesar Azpilicueta is close to return after a slight groin injury forced him off against Newcastle two weekends ago. Petr Cech will start in goal, and Filipe Luis, Kurt Zouma, one of John Terry or Gary Cahill, and Branislav Ivanovic likely across the back. Jon Obi Mikel has started each of the three League Cup ties to this point, and Mourinho will also have Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, and Ramires to choose from, with Oscar, Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Willian, and Mohamed Salah available to support one of Drogba, Loic Remy, or Diego Costa.
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Lucas Moreno
Even though there will have only been three days since the win at Aston Villa, there will be a few significant changes in terms of availability tomorrow. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson were left out on the weekend but should be available for the matchday squad tomorrow, while Mario Balotelli is expected back after missing out through illness. Joe Allen is reportedly close to a return as well, while each of Brad Jones, Jon Flanagan, and Daniel Sturridge should return from their respective injuries in the coming weeks. Jordon Ibe is cup-tied after playing in the competition with Derby County and cannot feature.
That should mean an eleven that's mostly similar to what Brendan Rodgers fielded at the weekend, with Gerrard expected to come straight back into the lineup and Fabio Borini back on the bench. If that's what happens, Raheem Sterling will push forward with Gerrard slotting in alongside one of Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana; it would be nice to see Lallana feature at some point, but there's no rush here even though he's been declared fully fit. A half-hour or so would do fine, especially given that Coutinho has tended to fade after the hour mark so often.
Without a longer layoff Rodgers could be tempted to ring in the changes elsewhere, but with the defensive unit finally hitting something resembling a stride and the midfield clicking as well as they have all season, it doesn't seem likely. The manager has consistently discussed his hopes for silverware this season, and without another Premier League match for nearly two weeks, the eleven should be whatever Rodgers believes "full-strength" is at this point.
Right now that would mean Simon Mignolet in goal, Emre Can, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho across the back, and Lazar Markovic, Jordan Henderson, Lucas, and Alberto Moreno through the midfield, with the aforementioned trio of Gerrard, Coutinho, and Sterling in attack. Slight chance Glen Johnson or Javier Manquillo comes in on the right, which would probably push Markovic to the left flank, but the above lineup appears to be a safe bet. Or at least as safe as any guess can be for a domestic cup tie.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST on Tuesday, with Sky Sports 1 airing the match live in the UK and beIN Sports carrying coverage in the US. Other viewing options will also be 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.
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