January is over. Liverpool exited both domestic cup competitions and couldn't find a win in four Premier League games during the first month of the year. While draws away to fierce rivals Manchester United and at home to Premier League leaders Chelsea maintained Jürgen Klopp's fine record against the top six this season, dropped points against Sunderland and Swansea City underline a different problem for Liverpool. Tomorrow's trip to the KC Stadium to face struggling Hull City will further examine this team's capacity to bully the league's weaker sides.
Liverpool are having one the club's best Premier League seasons to date but have a tendency to be charitable to teams in the bottom half of the table. Burnley got their first victory and points of the season. Bournemouth pulled clear of the team's struggling a few places above the relegation zone and jumped into the top ten by coming back from 3-1 down to win 4-3. West Ham had been taken apart by Arsenal 5-1 at home and were without a win in October before coming back twice to pick up a point away to Liverpool. Not only did the Slaven Bilić ease a little pressure by climbing out of the relegation zone, but he used the result as a platform to win their next three league games. Sunderland were torn apart at Burnley 4-1 but found pride at Anfield. Swansea City, bottom of the league and desperate for points, won earned three points at Anfield. The Welsh side also moved out of the relegation places with Liverpool’s assistance. In each game, the Reds conceded at least two goals.
With 15 games remaining, Liverpool have no distractions or excuses against opposition such as Hull City. Marco Silva replaced Mike Phelan early last month and has made some improvements to the way they play. A midweek point at Old a Trafford against Manchester United will boost confidence heading into this game, as will a number of additions in the transfer window. Four points in three games is a point more than Phelan managed in nine, but Hull remain four points from safety and are only a single point ahead of bottom club Sunderland. Liverpool, however, are without a win since beating Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. To state the obvious, five games without a win would be a problem.
Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner
Lallana, Henderson, Wijnaldum
Mané, Firmino, Coutinho
Liverpool took the step of arranging a private jet so that Sadio Mané could return as quickly as possible from the African Cup of Nations in Gabon. He got 15 minutes as a substitute but solves a headache for Klopp by starting. The Senegalese international is a key player for Liverpool in so many ways. He provides pace, verticality, goals, defensive diligence, intensity, and intelligent athleticism. If pace in wide areas was the only factor that Liverpool required in Mané’s absence, Middlesbrough’s Adama Traoré would have been a perfect addition to the squad.
Mané is good enough to start for every side in the Premier League, and now that he's back, Liverpool should give him at least an hour to trouble the some side’s defence alongside Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. Adam Lallana can operate at his best in midfield instead of deputising for Mané and gives Liverpool the best possible chance of victory. His presence in midfield goes some way to addressing a significant weakness in the side: a lack of composure. Nathaniel Clyne benefits from added support in defence, while Firmino remains in the middle where he is most effective. Quite a few players benefit directly from Mané’s return to the team.
Danny Ings is out for the season with another knee injury and remains the only senior squad player absent through injury. There are high hopes for both Ovie Ejaria and Marko Grujić, but the young midfielders are sidelined with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. Hull have a lengthy injury list but could call upon new signings Alfred N’Diaye and Kamil Grosicki for their first appearances. Lazar Marković is ineligible against his parent club, but the loaned started and hit the post late on against Manchester United.
After four consecutive games at Anfield, Liverpool are on the road once more but could deploy the team’s strongest outfield line-up since beating Swansea at the start of October. The consecutive away wins against Middlesbrough and Everton should be tomorrow’s blueprint as opposed to September’s 5-1 thrashing in the reverse fixture with Hull. Only Middlesbrough have scored fewer goals than Hull, and Silva’s team do not possess a talismanic goalscorer like Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe. League Two Plymouth Argyle were the only side not to breach Liverpool’s defence last month, and despite concerns surrounding the defence, the players can and have to do better.
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow with no coverage in the UK. Online radio coverage is provided by BBC Radio 5 Live. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, TSN2 in Canada, Star Sports Select HD1 in India, Supersport3 Africa in Kenya, Astro Supersport 3 in Malaysia, Eleven Plus Singapore in Singapore, and NBCSN in the US are carrying the match. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.