The performance against Chelsea on Tuesday night was among Liverpool's best on the season, and that it produced a draw should only be mildly disappointing. For all the huffing and puffing about Chelsea not being at their best and the hosts just hanging with it because their visitors had a tummy ache or something, it was a continuation of the progress Liverpool supporters have witnessed in the past month, and another indication that Brendan Rodgers' squad is headed in a far different direction than the one that saw them hit their nadir at Selhurst Park.
Liverpool will have to continue that progress in their fourth competition of the season tomorrow, as they face a Bolton squad that have lost just once in their last 12 matches. Neil Lennon took charge in mid-October with the Greater Manchester side in dire straits, but the former Celtic boss has overseen an impressive turnaround, including a 1-0 in the third round of the FA Cup over Wigan Athletic.
Former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing is now Bolton captain, and 37-year-old striker Emile Heskey could play a role as part of a dual reunion for sentimental favorites amongst the home supporters. Last time out against Sheffield Wednesday, in a 2-1 win that saw Lennon's side move up to 15th in the Championship, they went with Andy Lonergen in goal, Matthew Mills, Tim Ream, Dorian Dervite, and David Wheater across the back. Liam Feeney, Neil Danns, Darren Pratley, and Josh Vela in midfield, with Heskey and Craig Davies up front. Spearing started on the bench, with former Chelsea player Eidur Gudjohnsen making an appearance as a substitute late in the second half.
Skrtel Lovren Sakho
Manquillo Rossiter Henderson Enrique
Liverpool are, for the sixth time in the last seven match previews, close to being injury free, with nearly all their longer-term absentees back in training. No new injuries as of yesterday, and Brendan Rodgers announced that Mario Balotelli, Joe Allen, and Glen Johnson are all available. Daniel Sturridge, Jon Flanagan, and Brad Jones remain out through the weekend. Jordon Ibe is cup-tied after featuring in the competition previously with Derby County.
Rodgers announced that he'll look at changes from the side he's selected over the past few weeks, but he also exercised some measure of caution in his statements pre-match. All signs point to another rest for Steven Gerrard, and it wouldn't be unexpected for a number of others to have an extra day to prepare for the crucial second leg at Chelsea on Tuesday. Liverpool cannot slight a Bolton side that's been excellent under Lennon, but at the same time, they should be capable of utilizing the quality of a squad nearing full fitness to earn the victory.
Simon Mignolet will retain his spot in goal, but if there's any opportunity to ease Dejan Lovren back into action over the next few weeks, this might be it. Emre Can--who's been operating to great effect as a the right-sided central defender in a back three over the past month--could use a rest ahead of Tuesday's return fixture at Stamford Bridge, with Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel retaining their places as part of a three-man back line.
Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno could likewise use a night off, and Javier Manquillo and Jose Enrique provide ready-made substitutions while offering a more defensive approach. Rodgers made a point to mention that Jordan Rossiter would be involved, and with Lucas logging a significant number of minutes since his restoration to the side in late November, this would appear the time to pair the academy product with the surging vice-captain.
Up front there are myriad possibilities, though it appears that Adam Lallana is ready for minutes and locked-on for a start after missing the last few weeks through injury. He should operate just off a central striker with a partner on the opposite side, and for the sake of including Mario Balotelli, here's a guess that it will be Raheem Sterling joining Lallana in a supporting role in attack. There are plenty of combinations possible, though with Gerrard likely out of the picture it's limited to one of Sterling, Balotelli, Fabio Borini, or Rickie Lambert leading the line with two from Sterling, Lallana, and Philippe Coutinho in support.
Kickoff is set for 5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST on Saturday, with BT Sport 1 airing the match live in the UK and Fox Sports 2 carrying coverage in the US. Additional 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.