3:05pm ET, live in the US on FSC
Liverpool: 1-0 Gomel (a)
Gomel: 0-1 Liverpool (h); 0-1 Renova (h), 2-0 Renova (a); 4-0 Víkingur (h), 6-0 Víkingur (a)
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Gomel (a)
Gomel: 0-1 Liverpool (h); 0-1 Renova (h); 1-1 Polotsk [7-6 pens] (a)
Goalscorers (Europa League):
Liverpool: Downing 1
Gomel: Demidovich 3; Hleb, Kashevski 2; Aleksiyevich, Nowak, Timoshekno, Voronkov 1
Referee: Kenn Hansen (DEN)
Guess at a line-up
Johnson Skrtel Carragher Enrique
Downing Suarez Borini
1) Is Suarez ready to start after returning from the Olympics on Monday?
2) Is Reina ready to start after returning from his post-Euros vacation on Friday?
3) Is Lucas ready to start after being handled with kid gloves during preseason because of his long-term injury?
4) How badly did Joe Cole hurt himself last Thursday?
5) And what's the deal with Daniel Agger?
Even with an aggregate lead from the last leg, however slight, I expect to see as strong a line-up as possible. The youngsters and reserves will start Sunday's final preseason friendly against Bayer Leverkusen; this match will be crucial preparation for the first league fixture in 10 days time. Plus, there's still the small matter of assuring qualification for the next round.
Reina, Johnson, Agger, Lucas, and Carroll (along with Kelly, Robinson, Adam, Shelvey, Eccleston, and Pacheco) played a 50-or-so-minute behind-closed-doors friendly on Saturday. Which would support the belief that the above players are fit enough to start tomorrow if need be.
It's harder to guess how Suarez will be handled. He had his summer vacation prior to the Olympics, returning to Melwood almost immediately after Uruguay's exit. And Suarez is a player who is rarely rested, or rarely wants to be rested. He started Liverpool's first match last season after returning from his post-Copa America vacation less than a week before, having made zero preseason appearances. I'm tempted to think the same will be the case tomorrow.
And if Suarez starts, it doesn't really matter if Joe Cole's available, because Suarez would start over Cole every single time, with Joey back to human victory cigar bench duty. I am interested to see how Suarez and Borini line up if both feature: who will begin as the central striker, who will begin on the flanks? Admittedly, we'd see a fair bit of switching between the two, but it'll be a strong indication as to who Rodgers sees as his primary striker. I suspect it'll be Suarez – as he was mostly used by Dalglish, as he usually plays for Uruguay – but both he and Borini are capable of lining up in any of the forward positions.
Finally, I truly don't want to contemplate Agger's potential sale, but here we are, after a rumor-filled last few days. Rodgers' press conference this morning did little to put an end to the questions. Agger's participation tomorrow would ensure nothing; players aren't cup-tied by playing in the qualifying rounds anymore. Not that it makes him (or Andy Carroll, for that matter) any likelier to start. Let's just move on before I say or do something I'll regret.
Gomel will have to attack in this leg – not that they didn't in the last leg – but it'll have to be proactive attacking rather than playing on the counter, as they did for nearly 70 minutes in Belarus. They won't be able to pack their own half and rely on Alumona's one-on-one ability. Otherwise, Liverpool should be able to smother the match with passive possession, something that a Rodgers side should always be capable of, even in this very early stage of evolution.
Once again, I expect Gomel to play something like a 4-2-3-1, very similar to last week, with Alumona up front, Nowak and Platonov on the flanks, and Kazeka and Voronkov in the midfield. Both Kazeka and Voronkov played well in the previous match, out-muscling and controlling Liverpool's midfield for long stretches, shutting off angles and quickly transitioning to attack. Which is a large reason why I think Lucas' participation is rather crucial, although I'm also well aware the Brazilian needs to be protected after such a long injury. That I would prefer Spearing doesn't start may also factor into the equation.
I still suspect Vyacheslav Hleb will be absent, but once again, I haven't been able to find any reason for his absence for the last month. The two players involved in Belarus' Olympics squad – attacking midfielder Illya Aleksiyevich and central defender Ihar Kuzmyanok – may well return, exiting the competition at the same stage as Suarez's Uruguay; both were near-constant starters prior to leaving for international duty. Aleksiyevich would likely play in place of Lyavitski, Kuzmyanok either in place of Kirylchyk or with Kashevski shifting into midfield.
Now at Anfield, with a difficult, competitive match in the books, evolution is essential. No matter how early it is, we need to see some progress from last week's laborious, slightly lucky victory. That Liverpool are ahead on aggregate and on familiar ground should lead to an "easier" match: keeping possession and setting the tempo should come more naturally, especially as Gomel will become increasingly desperate the longer than Liverpool maintain its advantage. Still, by now, players, manager, and fans should all be more than aware that nothing ever comes all that easy.