Now into the second half of the season and set for what looks like a fairly tame month of January, Liverpool are going to need to start making the most of what they have. Quickly. They face six more matches before the calendar turns to February, with the two-legged League Cup semi-final against Chelsea and fourth round FA Cup tie against Bolton giving Brendan Rodgers' side their joint-busiest month of the season.
A disappointing draw at Anfield against Leicester at Anfield and underwhelming win away to Wimbledon in the FA Cup's third round didn't combine to give the club their strongest start, but a win tomorrow against Sunderland could get a small bit of momentum going as they enter yet another crucial stretch. Gus Poyet's side has specialized in frustrating "better" opposition in recent weeks, however, including in a 0-0 draw at Anfield in early December and draws at home against Chelsea and Everton. Still only three points off the drop, they're far from safe, but Poyet has managed to get his side organized and, as of Sunday, also into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The second-year boss could be without a number of key names tomorrow, including Jack Rodwell, Lee Cattermole, Vito Mannone, and Anthony Reveillere, though none are ruled out for sure. Sebastian Coates cannot play due to terms of his loan agreement, but otherwise Poyet could name another full-strength squad after just a few changes in the 1-0 win over Leeds. Costel Pantillimon will be expected to start in goal, with Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Santiago Vergini, and one of Billy Jones or Patrick Van Aanholt at the back, Adam Johnson, Jordi Gomez, Liam Bridcutt, and potentially Rodwell and Cattermole in the midfield, with Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham, and Emanuele Giaccherini in contention up top.
Can Skrtel Sakho
Manquillo Henderson Lucas Moreno
The most positive news regarding Liverpool's fitness concerns is that Daniel Sturridge should be back at some point this month, though tomorrow will come just 24 hours he has arrived back in England. He will be ruled out once again, then, along with Adam Lallana, Brad Jones, Joe Allen, Glen Johnson, and Jon Flanagan. Raheem Sterling will be back in the squad after he was allowed a rest for the Wimbledon fixture.
Nine days off will be as much as the 20-year-old has had all season, and he'll surely come back into the starting eleven up top. It would be nice (but unlikely) to see him deployed just off a front man, ideally Mario Balotelli, in tandem with Philippe Coutinho in the absence of Lallana, but Brendan Rodgers will likely go with Sterling up top and Steven Gerrard joining Coutinho in a more advanced role.
On the plus side that means another chance for Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park and Javier Manquillo at right wingback, but it pushes Balotelli further from the first-team picture as discussion of a potential January exit looms. Rodgers has his players, though, and as much as one might pull for Balotelli, his Liverpool future surely won't extend beyond this season. Manquillo and Henderson should be joined by Lucas and Alberto Moreno to round out the middle part of Liverpool's formation, with Lazar Markovic back on the bench.
At the back there don't appear to be too many changes in the works, though Dejan Lovren could come into the lineup for his first start since getting injured in December. Emre Can could use a break, and it would be nice to see the young German international used in the midfield. Lovren would be worth a shot with Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho across the back, especially if it means Can getting a chance as one of the two in central midfield.
Kickoff is set for 12:45PM GMT/7:45AM EST on Saturday, with BT Sport carrying the match live in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra providing coverage in the United States. 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.