Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa at the weekend has not—in the short term at least—proven costly to their top-four ambitions, as they remain in fourth place in the Premier League following Everton's own draw on Monday night.
It means that the Reds will head into the second Merseyside derby of the season—at home to Everton on Tuesday 28 January—in fourth, with Everton one point and two places below them.
Before that, however, Liverpool turn their attention to their other competition for the season: the FA Cup, where they face a fourth-round tie against Championship side Bournemouth.
While not immediately looking like an important game, certainly not compared to the derby, it's nonetheless one which the Reds should be taking seriously as a means to winning silverware.
Even so, manager Brendan Rodgers must accept the need to rotate part of his side to keep key players fresh ahead of the derby match.
After the awful opening 45 minutes against Aston Villa, Liverpool quickly abandoned their two-man central midfield and reverted to three in the centre. It is likely that, at least without Lucas and with Steven Gerrard, the two-man option will not be repeated any time soon.
While Rodgers has shown and stated a preference for a 1-2 midfield shape, it is entirely feasible that the players available and the game itself will necessitate the opposite against Bournemouth, with Liverpool lining up something along the lines of 4-2-3-1, with plenty of mobility and variance in the final third.
However, injuries and lack of depth in key areas are likely to hamper the manager's ability to rotate quite as much as he might like.
Gerrard, Sturridge and Co.
Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge are the two who immediately spring to mind among players who should be rested. Both will be required to play in the derby and both have also recently returned from injury absences, making two physically demanding games in the space of three days an unappealing and frankly unnecessary risk.
On defence, Rodgers will be restrained simply because there are too few options to switch. Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan—an entire back four no less—have all been absent and Physio Room indicates that only the latter is slated to return by the time of the FA Cup match.
Martin Kelly will presumably be handed another chance to prove his increasing fitness so the shockingly out-of-form Glen Johnson should step aside. Elsewhere, the only major changes should be in deciding between Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.
Who Stays In?
Though the adage of "one game at a time" invariably holds true, there come moments during the season when the next next game has to be taken into account—and the derby is one such occasion.
Liverpool will not be able to face off against Everton with Gerrard, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge and Luis Suarez all in the same XI.
Presuming the captain reprises his deep midfield role, it will be a case of reverting to 4-3-3—meaning one of Sterling and Coutinho will sit out. Rodgers has to decide which he wants for the derby and thus start the other against Bournemouth.
Suarez is hugely likely to stay in the side because, well, he's Suarez. Playing is what he does. Likewise for Jordan Henderson.
Is there a case for keeping Simon Mignolet in goal after his recent errors? To—hopefully—reclaim some semblance of control, calmness and form ahead of the derby? Probably so. Meanwhile, the alarmingly leaky combination of Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure (eight conceded in three starts together) will be thrust alongside each other once more by way of necessity.
Squad Members' Chances
Iago Aspas, your time is up. A goal in the third round should have given him a confidence boost, fans were told. Unfortunately, it's difficult to know if that's the case or not—he hasn't played a single minute since that match.
He will almost certainly play against Bournemouth, but didn't get off the bench against Aston Villa at the weekend when Liverpool were seeking a winning goal, at home, and had a spare substitute to use.
Neither did Victor Moses or Luis Alberto.
All or any of the three could well figure from the start against Bournemouth, but give Liverpool fans the choice at present of who takes the final attacking slot alongside the presumed Suarez-Sterling/Coutinho combination and most would likely opt for Jordon Ibe.
Martin Kelly, possibly Brad Smith—having recovered from injury following his debut—a potential debut at some point for Jordan Rossiter and Brad Jones are the only other realistic players to come in.
With the exception of—and here's an important one—Joe Allen.
Liverpool will almost certainly start a midfield trio of Allen, Henderson and Gerrard against Everton, so the Reds need a three-fold performance from Allen against Bournemouth: Dominate the game, support the irregular starters and stay fit.
Liverpool will look to bounce back to winning ways and a reliable team shape against Bournemouth, but beyond that, the only things to look for are to get safely through to the next round and keep key players fit.
The FA Cup isn't a distraction or an annoyance, but it's certainly come at a less than helpful moment for Liverpool this time.
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