It might not be to "save" Liverpool's season, but a win tomorrow and some silverware on the final day of the season would go an awful long way toward creating some positive sentiment after the tide seems to have turned--mostly in a negative direction--since a difficult two-match stretch that saw them fall out of the race for the top four. At least sort of. Manchester City's horrible form means that Liverpool are still alive, but the FA Cup represents the only possible prize that is entirely within Liverpool's grasp.
On the immediate horizon is a semifinal date with Aston Villa at Wembley tomorrow, with the winner facing either Arsenal or Reading in the final. Villa are yet to secure their top flight future but are increasingly comfortable; the win over Spurs last weekend meant they're now six points clear, and while their run-in includes the likes of Manchester City, Everton, and Southampton, they have to be considered one of the frontrunners to remain in the top flight for next season.
Results have improved since Tim Sherwood's arrival, including a three-match winning streak in early March and the aforementioned 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane last time out. Sherwood will have to deal with a shorthanded squad tomorrow, however, with a raft of player absences through injury and suspension. Among those expected to miss out are Gabby Agbonlahor, Ciaran Clark, Alan Hutton, and Aly Cissokho due to fitness problems, while Carlos Sanchez is suspended after his red card against Spurs. Scott Sinclair and Ashley Westwood should be available, however.
Against his former employers, Sherwood went with Brad Guzan in goal, Clark--who was replaced by Nathan Baker--Ron Vlaar, Leandro Bacuna, and Kieran Richardson across the back, Sanchez, Fabian Delph, as the midfielders, with Agbonlahor, Jack Grealish, and Christian Benteke providing the impetus going forward. Sherwood has preferred a diamond midfield of late, and with Sanchez suspended they could go with Westwood at the base. Benteke is the obvious danger man with Agbonlahor likely out, and Andi Weimann should come in to join the Belgian up top, while Sinclair could feature throughout the forward areas.
Can Skrtel Lovren
Johnson Henderson Lucas Moreno
Markovic Coutinho Sterling
Liverpool will welcome Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard back from their respective three-match bans, while Daniel Sturridge is going to be a match-time decision due to a lingering hip injury. It comes too soon for Adam Lallana as well, who's still recovering from a groin injury suffered against Manchester United, and Mamadou Sakho will be out until the final weeks of the season with a hamstring strain. Mario Balotelli should be available after missing out in each of the last three because of injury and ongoing illness. Jordon Ibe is cup tied after featuring for Derby County earlier in the competition.
Skrtel comes straight back into the starting eleven, but it's not quite so clear if Gerrard shares that same fate. The Slovakian has been Rodgers' most consistent defender this season, riding out a difficult fall spent alongside Dejan Lovren and settling well into a back three along with Emre Can and Sakho. He should join Can again here, with Lovren--who has been not completely disastrous in recent weeks--likely on the left. A back four is again possible, and if that's the case, it's Lovren who drops to the bench.
Assuming the move to three at the back again, it forces Rodgers to reduce numbers in midfield or sacrifice someone up top. With Ibe cup-tied the only realistic (sorry, Javi) options at wingback are Glen Johnson, Lazar Markovic, or one from Jordan Henderson or Raheem Sterling. The days for the latter pair in that role appear over, while Markovic could get the start further forward. That leaves Johnson on the right with Moreno likely on the left, and Henderson joining Joe Allen or Lucas centrally. It should probably be Lucas.
If Markovic pushes up the pitch, it would be nice to see him occupying the role Ibe took up against Newcastle, with Philippe Coutinho in a false-nine role and Raheem Sterling on the other flank. Coutinho caused plenty of problems in a new role, and while a cup semifinal might not be the time for further experimentation, it's not too dramatic a shift from previous setups. It all leaves Gerrard on the outside looking in from the start, though a spot in the starting eleven for the captain--and perhaps a different formation--wouldn't be surprising at all.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM BST/10:00AM EST on Sunday, with BT Sport 1 providing coverage in the UK and Fox Sports One 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.