A little over two weeks ago, Liverpool's season was on the rise. Another lengthy unbeaten run, an inviting path to the FA Cup final, and a chance at finishing in the top four had Brendan Rodgers as a visionary and a young, developing squad as among the more promising in the Premier League. Now the FA Cup presents a last hope before Rodgers is sacked and the squad sold for parts after two losses. Two. One by a goal--that admittedly felt like more--down to ten men, and the other away to the form side in the Premier League by a comfortable margin.
Just that like it's all over until it's not again, and tomorrow is the only meaningful moment left in Liverpool's season. It's all set up for heartbreak, of course, with the occasion and collective sentiment almost willing it to go Blackburn's way. Rodgers' side were matched by Blackburn from start to finish in the first tie, and since that time the Championship side have managed three wins from five as they look to secure a Wembley visit and move a step closer to their first FA Cup trophy since 1928.
If they're going to do advance, they'll have to do it without more than a handful of regulars, as manager Gary Bowyer will have his selection limited by injury and cup-tied transfers. As of Monday afternoon, Blackburn either had questions about or confirmed the absences of Rudy Gestede, Chris Brown, Simon Eastwood, Chris Taylor, Craig Conway, Grant Hanley, Josh King, David Dunn, Shane Duffy and Jason Lowe through injury, with Jay Spearing, Paul Taylor, David Raya and John O'Sullivan all missing out after competing in the competition early in the season with their parent or previous clubs.
That means some forced changes from the side that thumped 10-man Leeds last time out; in the 3-0 win, Bowyer went with Raya in goal, Adam Henley, Matthew Kilgallon, Marcus Olsson, and Alex Baptiste in defense, Tom Cairney, Ben Marshall, Lee Williamson, and Spearing in the midfield, and Jordan Rhodes alongside Gestede and Brown, each of whom were forced off through injury. Jason Steele could get the start in goal, while Rhodes will feature alongside one of the injured duo or John O'Sullivan, who replaced Brown.
Lovren Toure Sakho
Sterling Henderson Allen Markovic
Liverpool will miss Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, and Emre Can due to suspension, with Can missing only one match due to the two yellow cards he received against Arsenal while the latter pair serve the second of their three-match bans. Mario Balotelli will be a late decision after suffering a knee injury in training, while Jordon Ibe will likely miss at least another match recovering from an LCL ligament strain suffered back in February. Jon Flanagan is expected to take part in a closed-doors friendly later this week with a view to making the bench in the coming weeks.
Rodgers' assurances that Liverpool's tactical approach hasn't been found out will be tested tomorrow; he's wholly accurate when saying they need to create more and speed up their game, and despite having limited personnel, the manager has a chance to change things up as his squad look to move on to face Aston Villa at Wembley.
Defensively, he has little other option than to bring Dejan Lovren into the mix, especially if he's going with three at the back. If he switches to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 he could bring Javier Manquillo into the side and pair Kolo Toure with Mamadou Sakho, with Alberto Moreno at left-back. Further forward there could be places again for Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson, though the vice-captain's spot should not be at wingback. Raheem Sterling could find himself on right again, with Lazar Markovic or Moreno, who had a poor outing against Arsenal, on the left.
Selections deeper in the midfield will dictate was Rodgers does up top, but with Balotelli out of favor and apparently not fully fit, it doesn't seem that he gets a start here. The direct support for Daniel Sturridge, who is expected to start after coming on in the second half on Sunday, would be welcomed, but one or two from Sterling, Markovic, Philippe Coutinho, and, if he's ready, Adam Lallana, is far more likely.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST on Wednesday, with BT Sport 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.