2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last four head-to-head:
0-3 City (a) 01.03.12
1-1 (h) 11.27.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.11.11
0-3 City (a) 08.23.10
Liverpool: 2-0 Chelsea (a); 2-1 Stoke (a); 2-1 Brighton (a); 3-1 Exeter (a)
City: 1-0 Arsenal (a); 5-2 Wolves (a); 2-0 Brum (h)
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-1 Oldham (h); 0-3 City (a); 3-1 Newcastle (h)
City: 2-3 United (h); 3-0 Liverpool (h); 0-1 Sunderland (a)
Goalscorers (Carling Cup):
Liverpool: Suarez 3; Maxi 2; Bellamy, Carroll, Kelly, Kuyt 1
City: Dzeko 2; Agüero, Balotelli, Johnson, Hargreaves, Nasri 1
Referee: Lee Mason
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Bellamy Gerrard Downing
Yes, it's the Carling Cup. It's also the semi-finals. Liverpool will almost assuredly play the strongest lineup possible. This 'Mickey Mouse' cup will take precedence over Saturday's home match against Stoke, and then there's a week until the next fixture. Liverpool haven't a had a week between matches since mid-December.
Most of the starting spots seem guaranteed. Reina plays every match ever. Liverpool's best back four should return after being rested on Friday. To the delight of all, Adam is also likely to return after missing the FA Cup match. Gerrard will start if at all possible. Carroll seemingly has to play up top.
Which leaves two or three questions. Who'll be the third in midfield: Spearing, Shelvey, or Henderson? Will Bellamy's knees allow him to start consecutive matches? And will we see Downing after this weekend's alleged events?
If both Gerrard and Adam play, Spearing seems the most natural third; an out-and-out defensive midfielder in contrast to Shelvey usually attacking between the lines or Henderson's roaming hustle and bustle. However, Gerrard has played deeper than we're used to more often than not, and could well be a replacement for Liverpool's polarizing Scot, joined by Spearing and Shelvey or Henderson.
As for Bellamy or Maxi, Bellamy rightfully won the club's player of the month award this week and was clear man of the match last time out. Maxi's almost always at his best when Suarez plays, with the two combining almost involuntarily, and starts far less frequently when Carroll starts. Downing's alleged shenanigans may force Liverpool's hand, playing both Bellamy and Maxi or one with Kuyt on the right, but my first guess is Liverpool's two best crossers – Bellamy and Downing – feeding Carroll. If Bellamy's knees allow it.
No matter injuries, suspensions, or the African Cup of Nations. No matter three losses from the last four, including a third-round exit at the hands of their noisier, nosier neighbors. Manchester City will still be Manchester City, the team which beat Liverpool 0-3 on this ground a week ago.
Kompany's suspension, with his red card against United upheld today, should make Liverpool's life easier, especially with Kolo Toure also absent. Savic is inexperienced and Lescott is accident-prone, but both are still very good defenders. They're just not Vincent Kompany. Or Kolo Toure, for that matter. A back four of Richards-Savic-Lescott-Clichy (or, less likely, Zabaleta-Richards-Lescott-Clichy) is still better than the first-choice defense for the majority of the Premiership.
Gareth Barry will return from a one-match ban, but in addition to the missing Toures, Balotelli, Dzeko, and Silva are injury doubts; the first two missed City's FA Cup tie against United. It's hilarious to see Mancini cry about squad depth after spending approximately £60 trillion over the last couple of seasons, but City had to include youngsters Abdul Razak and Denis Suarez to fill out the bench against United.
Despite missing key players and despite being unfairly down to ten after 12 minutes, City were excellent against United, fighting throughout and unlucky not to overhaul a three-goal deficit with United reeling for the entire second half. Ideally, those exertions – just three days prior to this match – will have depleted City's already-depleted reserve, but the adage about a wounded animal being the most dangerous feels applicable.
That the first leg is away – with the climax at Anfield in two weeks – and comes so soon after City faced United, will benefit Liverpool. Nonetheless, Liverpool are still underdogs, with City odds-on favorites to lift the Cup next month. Which is probably exactly how Liverpool prefers it.