Liverpool will be looking to get their season back on track after a disappointing end to the calendar year that saw them fall from 1st on Christmas Day to 5th after their 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening.
The hosts come into this season’s round of New Year’s Day fixtures on the back of a pair agonising 2-1 defeats away to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. This Christmas always looked like being a challenging period for Rodgers’ side when fixtures were announced at the beginning of the season, and the power of Pellegrini and Mourinho’s sides proved too much for the injury-hit Reds.
Perspective is a very valuable and far too often scarce commodity in football, and it must be remembered that this time last year Liverpool found themselves in 10th position. These recent defeats were also the first time that Liverpool have lost 2 consecutive league games under Rodgers. Compare league statistics below from the calendar years of 2013 and 2012, and there is further evidence of progress.
The Reds have enjoyed their best start to the season for years, and in recent weeks there have been promising performances, in particular from academy graduates Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling, despite the defender operating on his weaker side to cover for Jose Enrique. Jordan Henderson has also been impressive, with his best performance of the season so far coming in the 5-0 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane, a victory few would have believed possible at the start of the season.
Hull meanwhile have enjoyed a solid start to the season. Despite being many peoples’ favourites to go straight back down at the start of the season they currently sit 10th, 7 points clear of the bottom three. The visitors have never won at Anfield in 6 attempts, but they did manage a 2-2 draw back in 2008, and surprised many when they won 3-1 in the reverse fixture at the KC Stadium earlier in the season. At home, Hull have been impressive, picking up 18 points, culminating in a 6-0 demolition of a woeful Fulham side, a game in which Tom Huddlestone shone.
The midfielder was deemed surplus to requirements at Spurs over the summer, and so far looks to be a shrewd £5m acquisition by Steve Bruce. Away from home though their form has been riddled with inconsistency, having collected just 5 points from a possible 27 on their travels, and winning only once in 9 attempts. Liverpool will no doubt prove a much sterner test for Hull second time round, desperate to make up lost ground on the top of the table and with a home goalscoring record bettered only by Manchester City so far.
Liverpool’s received yet more bad news after the Chelsea defeat, with Mamadou Sakho and Joe Allen limping off. The duo add to an already extensive injury list that has seen Brendan Rodgers forced to name U21 players Brad Smith and Jordan Rossiter on the bench in recent weeks to make up the numbers. Sakho has a hamstring injury the extent of which is not yet fully known, but Allen is likely to be out for ‘a few weeks’ with an abductor problem.
Sturridge (ankle) and Enrique (knee) are likely to be out for the foreseeable future, but fans will be boosted by the return of Victor Moses, who sat out the trip to Chelsea due to conditions of his loan deal from the London side. The big news however is that captain Steven Gerrard resumed full training this week and could be in contention to play a part in the game. Gerrard has not featured since limping off after 54 minutes in the 4-1 win against West Ham, and his seemingly imminent return to action will be extremely well received by Liverpool fans.
For the visitors, striker Sone Aluko is unavailable due to an achilles injury, while Joe Dudgeon is likely to be on the sidelines until around February. The young defender was first choice under Steve Bruce last season until a knee ligament injury requiring surgery ruled him out for the rest of the campaign as early as October, and his road to recovery has been littered with setbacks.
Winger Robbie Brady, who started the season well until a series of injuries hampered his playing time, could make his comeback from a groin injury, with Stephen Quinn also looking to make his return to fitness in time for the trip to Anfield tomorrow. James Chester and Alex Bruce will be vying for a place in the starting lineup alongside Curtis Davies at the heart of defence, while either Yannick Sagbo or Danny Graham could start up front for the Tigers, with Steve Bruce likely to opt for a one striker formation away from home.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-0 Hull. The home side boast the joint-best home defensive record this season, having only conceded 6 goals at Anfield and have found the net more times in 2013 (84) than any other Premier League side. Liverpool’s general formidability at home this campaign, combined with Hull’s poor away record since their return to top flight football means the result is likely to only go one way.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Cissokho; Lucas, Henderson, Moses, Coutinho, Sterling; Suarez.
Hull City: McGregor; Rosenior, Bruce, Davies, Figueroa; Livermore, Huddlestone, Elmohamady, Brady, Koren; Graham.