For teams outside the top four and far from concerns about relegation, the season's final few weeks are mostly about giving supporters some entertainment and a glimpse of what to expect for the next campaign. It's been slightly different for Liverpool, who were clinging to slim top-four hopes before transitioning to the farewell campaign for their long-time captain and one of the best players in the club's history. All of a sudden, it's time for Anfield to say goodbye to Steven Gerrard.
It's not going to be pretty, but hopefully it'll go out with something resembling a bang. Crystal Palace could prove willing opposition, as they found their way to safety on the strength of five wins in six matches from late February until mid-April, with four consecutive victories at the tail end securing top-flight survival. They have little left to play for given that they've secured top-flight football for next season (and despite a current four-match losing streak), and while adding to the points haul over the next two weeks will be a priority, they've got sights firmly set on the start of next year.
Alan Pardew's return has been mostly successful, and tomorrow he should be able to call on most of his regulars if he so chooses, with only Jerome Thomas ruled out. In the 2-1 loss against Manchester United last weekend, Pardew went with Julian Speroni in goal, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, and Pape Souare in defense, Mile Jedinak and James McArthur in central midfield, with Yannick Bolasie, Joe Ledley, and Wilfried Zaha in support of Glenn Murray up top. Martin Kelly will hopefully get a chance at some point for Palace, while substitute Jason Puncheon got the equalizer after replacing Ledley at the half.
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Mario Balotelli and Mamadou Sakho should be available for selection tomorrow, though the former was apparently fit for the Chelsea match and just left out of the matchday squad. That leaves Jon Flanagan and Daniel Sturridge as the only confirmed absentees, then, with both expected back in the early stages of next season.
This one is, obviously, all about Steven Gerrard. He starts somewhere in the midfield, the rest of the pieces fall where they may, and, for better or worse, there's not much else happening from a Liverpool perspective. Maybe there's another cameo for Jerome Sinclair, who showed glimpses against Chelsea of why he's been so successful in the youth ranks and looked a good fit for the personnel on the pitch, and there's possibly another surprise or two to come from other youngsters.
But this will be a concerted effort to give Gerrard as warm an Anfield send-off as possible, and it's likely that he'll be looking to get amongst the goals from wherever he starts. All signs point to another deeper-lying role to begin the match, with Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho set for more advanced roles until circumstances dictate. Emre Can is probably going to start again at fullback, and while Alberto Moreno should be starting on the opposite flank, Rodgers appears ready to let Glen Johnson play out his Liverpool days at left-back.
An Anfield goal for Rickie Lambert is either second or third on the end of season wishlist--which hopefully includes proof of life for Javi Manquillo and appearances for Moreno and Lazar Markovic--and he's the favorite to feature alongside Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling in attack. It would be nice to see Sinclair from the start because why not, especially considering each of Lambert, Balotelli, and Fabio Borini are all but sold, but Rodgers is intent on giving Lambert as many chances as possible to get the goal he's been waiting for.
Kickoff is set for 5:30PM BST/12:30PM EST on Saturday, with Sky Sports 1 carrying 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.