2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.24.11
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.22.11
0-1 Wolves (h) 12.29.10
0-0 (a) 01.26.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 United (h); 2-2 City (h); 1-3 Bolton (a)
Wolves: 2-3 Villa (h); 0-1 Brum (h); 1-1 Spurs (a)
Liverpool: Bellamy, Suarez 5; Adam, Carroll, Gerrard, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Henderson, Johnson 1
Wolves: Fletcher 9; Hunt, Ward 3; Doyle, Edwards, O'Hara 2; Ebanks-Blake, Jarvis, Kightly, Zubar 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
You may remember Mr. Taylor from last season's lone Carling Cup match. Or 2-0 Stoke at Anfield. But probably more from the Carling Cup match.
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Skrtel Agger Johnson
Kuyt Shelvey Downing
Same old story. With a tired team after two tough matches in the previous six days, who's available?
Thankfully, it seems Spearing will be back in action, which is even better news considering rumors that Gerrard was taken off against United after a hamstring twinge. Even if Gerrard's hamstrings are fine, whether the substitution was precautionary or tactical, I'd be surprised if he played tomorrow. He's started six consecutive games since returning from an extended absence, and keeping the captain fit has to be one of Dalglish's preeminent concerns.
It seems the perfect match to also bring Shelvey back into the fold, playing ahead of the hopefully-returning Spearing and Adam, who was left on the bench against United. If Liverpool play two up top, partnering Carroll with Kuyt or Bellamy, Shelvey could also start on either flank. Again, if Carroll's available after Saturday's exertions.
The front four (or three) is just as speculative. Liverpool have predominantly played one up top during Suarez's suspension (this is the last match of his ban), with the exceptions being Carroll and Bellamy up front at Bolton and a Kuyt and Bellamy pairing in the first half against Oldham. Neither were especially effective, to put it nicely; Carroll and Bellamy didn't do badly against Bolton, combining for Liverpool's lone goal, but everyone else sure did. The Welshman didn't start against United, but might again be more useful as a speedy, game-changing option off the bench. Energizer Bunny Kuyt, also used as a substitute against the Mancs, never needs a rest, finally in fine form following City and United, while Downing seems more likely than Maxi to stay in the side. Liverpool could also deploy something akin to a three-man strike force, with Bellamy and Kuyt on either side of Carroll.
Enrique has been one of Liverpool's better summer signings, but his form's dropped during the winter months. At fault for United's lone strike, with a similar error against Bolton nearly leading to a goal and unimpressively jogging back without covering on Bolton's second, if any defender needs a rest, it's the left-back. To be fair, he's started more matches than any other outfield player, one of only two outfield players (along with Adam) to start every league fixture. Agger's another who could use a break, but I'd imagine Dalglish will stick with his preferred central pairing if at all possible.
Wolves replaced Bolton in the bottom three after the Trotters' triumph over Liverpool last week. Winless since December 4 – with five losses and five draws over that spell – this is the exact type of fixture that Liverpool should take three points from but the exact type of fixture which rightfully strikes fear into fans' hearts this season. Admittedly, two of Wolves' five draws since December came in good performances at Arsenal and Tottenham, but Wolves have been suffering more often than not for the last two months, demonstrated by the rumors about replacing Mick McCarthy.
With Frimpong and O'Hara injured, and Karl Henry suspended, Wolves' cupboard is nearly bare in central midfield. McCarthy could try to shoehorn Hunt, Ward, or Jonsson in the middle with Edwards and Milijas, but a 4-4-2 with both Fletcher and Doyle or Ebanks-Blake up top looks more likely. Fletcher is far and away the biggest threat, with three times as many goals as his closest competitor. The Scot struck Wolves' early second half consolation in the reverse fixture at Anfield.
It goes without saying that Liverpool need to use last week's cup wins as the basis for improvement over the rest of the league campaign. Disappointing more often than not over the first 22 fixtures, Liverpool are still, somehow, just six points behind fourth and the holy grail that is Champions League qualification. Despite multiple setbacks, that's not an impossible task over the course of 16 matches. We're getting very close, though.
With the magical Suarez returning next time out against Tottenham, Liverpool have one more chance to prove there's goals in the side, especially against supposedly-inferior opposition, without its Uruguayan talisman. The cup runs have been both inspiring and warmly-welcomed, but the club have fewer and fewer chances to improve both its place and performances in the league.