After playing five games in 16 days over the holidays, Liverpool's first-team players could probably use a break. Against Oldham Athletic in the third round of the FA Cup, they'll probably get it.
The 16 days were a wild ride for the Reds. By Christmas, they were atop the Premier League table. But losses to Manchester City and Chelsea saw them drop to fifth by New Year's Day. But a convincing 2-0 win over Hull City vaulted them back to fourth place in the Premier League.
They'll likely give their key players a rest against Oldham, currently 19th on the League One table, England's third-tier division. That could be risky, however, as Oldham and Liverpool have a bit of a recent history.
Let's take a closer look at this FA Cup tie.
When: Sunday, January 5 at 10 a.m. ET (3 p.m. GMT)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool, England
Watch: LFC TV Online
Lest we forget, it was Oldham that knocked the Reds out of the FA Cup a season ago, beating them 3-2. And for that reason, keeper Simon Mignolet has warned his teammates to expect stiff competition. His comments, via Phil Kirkbride of the Liverpool Echo:
For them it is already a cup final. It is already a big game for them to look forward to and they will come here and try to show everyone what they can do at a ground like Anfield. We have to make sure we are professional and do a job.
We want to win any game. That doesn't make any difference whether it is the FA Cup, Capital One Cup or any other games—we try to step on and prepare ourselves and make sure we get out of the game what we can get out of it.
I would always watch the FA Cup finals growing up in Belgium. It is a very important competition. It is a big opportunity as you can play at Wembley but that is far ahead of us.
The next game is the most important one and before you get to that stage you have to win a lot of games and against Oldham it won't be an easy game. We have to prepare in a professional manner and make sure we are ready for it when it comes along.
Still, it's hard to imagine the Reds starting many of their key players. The team's primary goal has to be finishing in the top four this season, and consecutive losses to Chelsea and Manchester City during the holidays had to reemphasize just how difficult that goal would be.
Yes, Liverpool would love to win a trophy via the FA Cup, but let's be honest—it's a secondary concern for the team right now. Players like Luis Suarez, Jordan Henderson, Martin Skrtel and Philippe Coutinho could use a break, among others.
Liverpool have seen the injury bug bite this season, with Mamadou Sakho and Joe Allen being the latest victims. They join Daniel Sturridge and Jose Enrique, while Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson recently returned to fitness though neither are likely to start.
It should be a chance for Oldham to take advantage of a weakened Reds side. They'll turn to Adam Rooney (four goals) and James Dayton (two goals, two assists) to provide a spark against the Reds' second-team choices.
So can lightning strike twice?
Which team wins?
Probably not. Liverpool have enough depth to put a quality side out against Oldham, and Brendan Rodgers could always choose to be aggressive and put out several of his regular starters. Regardless, Liverpool should have the stronger team no matter who gets the nod.
Oldham will look to last year's win as motivation and as a confidence-builder, but in truth, that result makes it less likely they'll beat Liverpool a second time. The Reds won't be blindsided again.
Liverpool wins, 2-0.