Liverpool return to FA Cup action as they travel to the Macron Stadium on Wednesday night looking to progress to the fifth round where a tie against Crystal Palace awaits. Ben Twelves takes a look at the numerous options available to Brendan Rodgers.
After a one match break from cup competition football in Saturday’s 2-0 league success over West Ham, Brendan Rodgers’ Reds quickly turn their attentions back to another tricky cup tie against Neil Lennon’s rejuvenated Bolton.
Nothing separated the two in-form sides in a flat fixture at Anfield which ended in a goalless draw, but with a winner and loser set to be decided in the replay, Rodgers’ side will be looking to continue their upturn in performances and results to move into round five of the competition with as little fuss as possible against the Championship team.
Liverpool responded perfectly on Saturday to their League Cup semi-final exit as the Reds recorded three straight league wins for the first time this season, and Rodgers’ squad will need to translate their impressive league form to the FA Cup in order to arrive in the next round where a trip to Selhurst Park beckons.
The fixture which should have been avoided has come at a cost for the Reds though, with the second Merseyside derby of the season at Goodison Park next up, and with only a small amount of time between the games Rodgers has a tricky selection dilemma on his hands for the cup clash.
Rodgers: When so many games, you have to plan forward but I'll pick a team to win the game (v Bolton). I have a squad I trust and believe in
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) February 2, 2015
Rodgers says Daniel Sturridge's reaction to playing against West Ham on Saturday has been "great" but will continue to manage his return.
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) February 2, 2015
The Liverpool squad edges closer to full strength with Brad Jones and Jon Flanagan the only remaining absentees, and the depth of the squad should allow Rodgers to make a number of changes to his starting team, but that is unlikely to include playing Daniel Sturridge from the beginning against his former club as his comeback continues to be carefully managed.
Options are aplenty for the Northern Irishman, and though a strong team will need to be fielded in order to get the job done against Lennon’s men, rotation where possible should be forthcoming with Liverpool set to play the first of six fixtures in a short but hectic month.
A number of players could benefit from a night off with Lucas Leiva being a priority having played 120 minutes in the second leg at Stamford Bridge and 90 minutes at the weekend, and the consistent back three could all benefit from a break as could Philippe Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling could be benched in preparation for the weekend.
Replacements are readily available for Rodgers, with Steven Gerrard free to feature after being afforded an afternoon off at the weekend, and Glen Johnson, Dejan Lovren, Jose Enrique, Javi Manquillo, Joe Allen, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini will all be hopeful of receiving some match minutes, though Jordon Ibe is frustratingly cup-tied having featured for loan club Derby in round three.
The Line Up
Rodgers’ words in his pre-match press conference were that he would “pick a team to win” but having also acknowledged “when you have so many games you have to plan forward” at the same time, changes to the starting XI seem certain though how many alterations that entails is up for debate.
Four changes were made to the XI for the 0-0 draw at Anfield, but the Liverpool boss could choose to make more this time with his team having come off the back of two hours of football against Chelsea and having made only one change in the victory over Sam Allardyce’s side.
First choice players such as Lucas and Emre Can – who has been on the receiving end of some rough treatment in recent games – should be rested, as should Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic with the pair continuing to impress in physically demanding wing-back roles, and Coutinho and Sterling’s importance means they should be preserved ahead of Saturday’s derby.
Resting those key players and introducing six faces could see Liverpool look like this:
However, Rodgers may opt to make the same number of switches as the first game – should he choose not name an unchanged XI – in order to keep momentum in the side but still affording a night off for the most needed, and with that being a more likely option, I expect a stronger Liverpool to look like this come kick-off on Wednesday night:
FA Cup glory is in Liverpool’s sights with some of the Premier League‘s big boys having already been eliminated in the fourth round, and though Rodgers’ men will have to guard against complacency in a testing match, Wednesday night presents an ideal chance for the Reds to take another step towards reaching Wembley.
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