This is probably not the way most would have liked to follow up the disappointing end to Liverpool's Europa League campaign. Thursday night's loss in the penalty shootout clearly wore on supporters, and while the squad seemed to emerge relatively unscathed, 120 minutes and a long trip home aren't the best preparation to face the Premier League's second best team.
At the same time, this is a fixture in which Liverpool have been able to elevate their game in Brendan Rodgers' first two seasons, earning a draw amidst early-season disappointment in his first year and finding a late winner last spring in a match that looked as though it would decide the title. Manchester City are the only side that could possibly challenge Chelsea this season, but Liverpool could still have a say in how the top end of the table looks in May while giving themselves a boost in the race for the top four.
City come into tomorrow's match on the heels of their own European disappointment, having been thoroughly dominated at home against Barcelona. They found a late lifeline through Sergio Aguero's goal and Joe Hart's save on a Lionel Messi penalty, but it would be shocking if they managed to progress to the quarterfinals now. In the league they've lost just once since the new year, a 2-0 loss at home to Arsenal, and in their last two matches--against Stoke City and Newcastle--they've scored nine goals.
Manuel Pellegrini doesn't have any injury problems to worry about and should have a full-strength squad to choose from, including January signing Wilfried Bony, who's yet to make a start after joining from Swansea City and missing most of the month as part of Cote d'Ivoire's AFCON-winning squad. Against Barcelona, Pellegrini went with Hart in goal, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Martin DeMichelis, and Gael Clichy across the back, Fernando and James Milner in the midfield, and David Silva and Samir Nasri from the wide areas in support of Aguero and Edin Dzeko up front. Yaya Toure is expected to start, with Bony and Fernandinho possibilities as well.
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Allen Moreno
At least three of those ruled out through injury midweek are expected to return, leaving only Lucas, Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique, Brad Jones, and Jon Flanagan ruled out. Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho should all be healthy, while Philippe Coutinho's rest was planned for one match only. Others are certainly likely to be feeling the strain of so many matches in recent months, Emre Can chief among them.
And for that reason, despite his undeniable influence, it seems like it's time for him to get a rest of his own, though it's more likely to happen on Wednesday against Burnley. With Henderson back, however, he is probable to start in defense, with Martin Skrtel in the middle and the returning Sakho on the left. Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure drop out; neither was particularly poor against Besiktas, but Can and Sakho are clearly first-choice at this point along with Skrtel.
Lazar Markovic is expected to start as well, and he should be opposite the impressive Alberto Moreno with Henderson and Joe Allen centrally. The latter has continued his good form in Lucas' absence, and while his influence might not be quite as evident as the Brazilian's, he has managed to put together a string of strong showings in recent weeks.
Once again, it's not entirely clear what Brendan Rodgers will do up front, though it doesn't look like he'll be going with two strikers again. Coutinho will surely start, as will Raheem Sterling despite disappointing on Thursday, leaving the only question mark whether or not Daniel Sturridge gets another run-out. Given that he featured into extra time on Thursday, Adam Lallana--or Mario Balotelli, who was excellent and deserves to get more minutes in some capacity but probably won't start here--could join Coutinho in support of Sterling. If Sturridge does start, Lallana likely drops out with Sterling operating deeper alongside Coutinho.
Kickoff is set for 12:00PM GMT/7:00AM EST on Sunday, with Sky Sports 1 providing coverage in the UK and NBCSN airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.
- Alberto Moreno Continues to Impress Despite Loss at Besiktas
- Rodgers: Emre Can is "Impressive," "Top Class," and Any Other Superlative You Might Come Up With
- Liverpool Could Benefit from Enforced Squad Rotation
- "Devastated" Liverpool Will Regroup in Time to Face Manchester City on Sunday
- Liverpool Will Face No Financial Fair Play Sanctions