Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday February 21 2014
Barclays Premier League
The Premier League season is now over two-thirds of the way through and, with the top of the table so tightly congested, the next few matches could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
Liverpool, who like the majority of other clubs have 12 league games remaining this season, are next in action against Swansea City at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
Unlike most of the other top sides though, those 12 fixtures now represent the Reds' only focus after last weekend's contentious FA Cup exit to Arsenal.
Many observers, such as former striking legend Ian Rush, believe that could play into Liverpool's hands as they look to secure Champions League football and hopefully close a four point deficit to current leaders Chelsea.
Manager Brendan Rodgers, who is yet to taste a league defeat against his former side, will certainly be expecting to pick up three points against the struggling Swans who recently sacked Michael Laudrup.
Despite overseeing a 3-0 victory over Welsh rivals Cardiff City in his first game in charge, new boss Garry Monk has inherited a team just four points above the dropzone.
Rodgers: "We go into every game, and in particular our home games, looking to own the pitch.
"It's our home ground. It's our changing rooms, it's our field and it's our supporters. So we have to play like we own it.
"That's always been the mantra here for many, many years. It's one that we go in thinking about ourselves. We respect the opponent that we play - every game at this level is tough. But we back ourselves now and we expect to win."
The club's lengthy list of injured personnel is finally beginning to dissipate. Right-back Glen Johnson, who has been deemed unfit for the past month, is set to follow center-back Daniel Agger in providing the error-prone defence with reinforcements this weekend. Should Johnson be selected, Jon Flanagan is likely to switch over to left-back at the expense of Aly Cissokho. Fellow defender Mamadou Sakho (hamstring) and midfielder Lucas Leiva (knee) are both in line to feature again at the beginning of next month. Elsewhere, midfielder Jordan Henderson is expected to start against the Swans despite being relegated to the bench against Arsenal following wrist surgery. The prognosis on left-back Jose Enrique is not as good though after Rodgers revealed the Spaniard had been to America to consult specialists on his ongoing knee injury. Young winger Jordon Ibe has joined Birmingham City on loan until the end of the season.
Mignolet, Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Cissokho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.
The Uruguayan is going through a little bit of a drought by his own incredible standards this season; failing to find the back of the net in his last four appearances. That anomaly shouldn't detract from the fact Suarez is still producing some breathtakingly-brilliant performances. With Daniel Sturridge back and firing, the 27-year-old has played less centrally of late but continues to create and terrorise defences at will. His return of 23 goals in 21 Premier League games still compares favourably with anyone else in Europe. The ex-Ajax forward has also given fans a boost in the past couple of days by declaring in an interview with the Liverpool ECHO: "I know I can achieve my dreams here."
Swansea could travel to Merseyside without arguably their best player as Spanish forward Michu battles a persistent ankle problem. The former Celta Vigo man is back in training after surgery and, despite continuing to be discomforted by the area, there is talk of administering a pain-killing injection which could allow him to feature on Sunday. Otherwise the squad is pretty much at full strength barring any players who report issues following Thursday night's creditable Europa League stalemate with Napoli. Since taking over the Liberty Stadium reigns, Monk has largely selected sides comparable to his predecessor. Ex-Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is back in the reckoning following hamstring trouble while one-time Anfield colleague David N'Gog provides a potential foil for Wilfried Bony up front. Highly-regarded Dutch international Michel Vorm is back between the sticks after injuring a knee in December.
Vorm, Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies, Cañas, Britton, De Guzmán, Hernández, Dyer, Bony.
The powerful Ivorian has proved a great purchase since arriving for a club-record fee of £12 million in the summer. Considering Bony has often played as a lone striker, and minus the support of the injured Michu, his record of 17 goals in all competitions is an impressive one. The former Vitesse Arnhem striker is about more than strength though and he possesses good heading ability, holds the ball up well and has a powerful shot at his disposal. When Michu does return, the pair have the potential to form one of the most formidable partnerships in the league.
• Liverpool and Swansea have met just 28 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 12 wins to 8 and 8 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 67 goals compared to a tally of 33 for the Cottagers.
• Five of Liverpool goals came in the corresponding fixture last season but Swansea did record a victory at Anfield on their way to lifting the League Cup earlier in the same campaign.
• That 3-1 success is one of two cup wins enjoyed by the Swans at Anfield (the other being a 2-1 FA Cup triumph in 1964). However, they have failed to register a league win at Liverpool in 12 attempts dating back to the 1954-55 season.
• The Swans have managed exactly half the amount of goals that Liverpool have scored this season - 33 compared to 66.
• The Reds are unbeaten in their last seven league fixtures stretching back to the end of 2013 while Swansea are without a win in their last seven on the road.
• Both sides have recorded seven clean sheets in their 26 Premier League games played.
• Sturridge has scored in his last seven Premier League matches in a row. Ex-Manchester United strike Ruud van Nistolrooy (twice) is the only player to have scored in eight straight Premier League matches.
Mike Jones is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The Chester based whistle blower has taken charge of 23 games so far this season, showing 80 yellow cards and three red. The 45-year-old has officiated Liverpool on one previous occasion this campaign; the 4-0 win over Fulham in November. Jones has been a part of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2008.
Given Liverpool have dropped just four points at home all season and their last two Anfield fixtures ended in 5-1 and 4-0 victories, over Arsenal and Everton respectively, there should be only one winner. However, Swansea are a very good side with some technically gifted performers and, perhaps as a result of juggling European football for a first time, they have underachieved in the league so far this season. Rodgers' men will need to perform with the same intensity and vigour they do against the top teams to ensure the predicted three points are pocketed. Further unexpected dropped points, as against West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa recently, could prove costly in the final reckoning and each game needs to be approached as a proverbial cup final.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 3-1 win
Liverpool - Premier League vs. Southampton at St Mary's on Saturday 1st March 2014, kick off 5.30pm GMT.
Swansea City - Europa League vs. Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Thursday 27th February 2014, kick off 6.00pm GMT.
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Date:Friday February 21 2014
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