Liverpool's exit from the Europa League has left Brendan Rodgers with two competitions to focus on for the remaining three months of the season. For the first time in his reign as manager, the 42-year-old will engage in a cup competition beyond the month of February.
The first game of a crucial final three months is against reigning Premier League champions Manchester City at Anfield. Anyone connected to the club would have preferred to exit after 90 minutes instead of 120, but a penalty shoot-out defeat is what transpired. There were some decisions that weren't the best, but Liverpool should have been two or three goals up on aggregate with only a quarter of the tie remaining. The Europa League has its merits as a competition, but the Thursday matchdays, small revenue, extra knock-out game, and lack of prestige compared to the Champions League makes it difficult to miss it dearly.
Manuel Pellegrini's side lost at home to Barcelona on Tuesday, two days before Liverpool went the distance in the second leg in Istanbul. That is a considerable advantage before a game on Sunday, but a number of players missed out. Lazar Marković was suspended, whereas the key trio of Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Henderson, and Philippe Coutinho were all injured. Those are four changes that Rodgers will likely make as Jordon Ibe made his worst appearance since being recalled from loan at Derby County, and Liverpool would be best served by the defensive unit that has served Liverpool so well in this unbeaten Premier League run of ten games.
It wouldn't be outlandish to assert that Sakho is the club's most important defender, Henderson is the engine of the side, and Coutinho is the creative hub when the attack clicks. Having those players available and unburdened by the rigours of midweek will be vital. It shouldn't be forgotten that losing on penalties isn't the best experience for any team, and some players may have a mental hangover from the events in Istanbul. Of course, the management team will support the side in the lead-up to the game, but the injection of fresh energy will help.
Manchester City will have Yaya Touré fresh as he was suspended for the first leg against Barcelona but travel to Anfield. Home advantage, fine domestic momentum, and returning players should provide fans with plenty of optimism. The possible fatigue in Daniel Sturridge may be an area of concern, but the improved form of Mario Balotelli could be a factor against the Italian's former team. Adam Lallana is still trying to find the groove that he found before he got injured and came on as a late substitute on Thursday to play only 38 minutes. That's less than one half of football.
There will be players such as Emre Can who are in need of a rest, but there are also players such as Joe Allen who have been improving with a run of games in the side. Liverpool will play a third match in a row where a number of changes have been made, and while this squad rotation may not have been the design of Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool's prospects will certainly be better off for it in the games to come.