Fresh off of an away victory at Arsenal last weekend, the Reds beat Exeter City in a midweek Carling Cup fixture and seem to be improving every time they take the pitch.
Visiting Bolton has played well in its early season fixtures with a narrow 3-2 loss to Manchester City last Sunday sandwiched by a 4-0 opening day victory over newly promoted Queens Park Rangers and a 2-1 win against Macclesfield in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.
Managed by Owen Coyle, the Wanderers have firmly established themselves as a mid-table Premier League side and have shown a penchant for positive, attacking soccer ever since the Scot's appointment in January 2010. However, the club has dealt with a rapidly increasing pile of debt, causing Coyle to have to allow several squad members, notably striker Johan Elmander, to leave over the summer. Coyle has also been robbed of two key starters in Stuart Holden, injured last March against Manchester United but expected to return in the coming weeks, and Chung-Yong Lee, lost indefinitely after breaking his leg in preseason. Despite these losses, the Wanderers' disciplined 4-4-2 formation features a strong spine that will prove a real test for the Reds this weekend.
Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen is shielded by a central defensive pairing of long-time Premier Leaguer Zat Knight and the in-demand Gary Cahill. Coyle has spent all summer fighting to keep Cahill at the Reebok Stadium, despite Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool all signaling interest in the English international.
Left back Paul Robinson and right back Gretar Steinsson fill out a very experienced back four. Robinson came in at second place in Bolton's Player of the Year voting after a strong 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, Steinsson has proven to be a solid contributor after his 2008 transfer from Dutch side AZ Alkmar, making more than 100 appearances in his Bolton career.
With new signing Nigel Reo-Coker joining Fabrice Muamba, Bolton has more than enough defensive protection in central midfield. Both players can be counted upon to break up opposition possession, however the absence of Holden leaves the Wanderers with a more limited passing range in the middle of the park.
Further forward, both Ivan Klasnic and captain Kevin Davies scored against the Citizens on Sunday, and the early returns look promising for the Wanderers' rebuilt striking partnership. Elmander's good form at the beginning of last year overshadowed a long dry spell in the second half of the campaign, more in line with the rest of his Bolton career, and the talented Klasnic may yet prove to be an upgrade.
Chris Eagle has been a fixture on the left wing, slotting seamlessly into Coyle's side following his transfer from Burnley earlier this summer. On the right, Martin Petrov has the skill and confidence to run at any defense, although the former Manchester City player struggles to maintain consistency on a match-to-match basis.
For the home side, Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has more options to choose from when picking his starting 11, particularly after several impressive individual performances in the midweek match against Exeter City.
Pepe Reina, who captained the Reds during their victory over Exeter, is an easy bet to start in goal. Meanwhile the backline that faced Arsenal last weekend could return in its entirety after being rested for Wednesday's match. Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher played well last at the Emirates and, when fit, complement each other well with the more technical Agger rounding out Carragher's no-nonsense defending. Similarly, left back Jose Enrique and right back Martin Kelly should expect a recall to the starting lineup with both players turning in excellent performances in the victory over the Gunners.
Jay Spearing had a solid season debut against Exeter midweek, however, it won't be enough to displace Lucas as the squad's holding midfielder following the Brazilian's dominant showing at Arsenal. Charlie Adam is likely to be one of the few holdovers from Wednesday's match, as the former Blackpool player has started every competitive match of the season. Adam has shown steady signs of progress in the season's early goings but he will be hoping to reaffirm his starting berth with a steady run of quality outings. Raul Meireles's injury and Alberto Aquilani's departure to Milan could lead to more playing time for Jonjo Shelvey in the weeks ahead, but a Premier League start will probably evade the young midfielder for the time being.
The biggest questions for Dalglish come in his selections out wide and in attack. Luis Suarez is the only player who can be guaranteed of a start, with his early substitution midweek hopefully allowing the Uruguayan sufficient rest for the weekend's match. After scoring his first goal of the season on Wednesday, Andy Carroll will likely join Suarez in attack, however it remains to be seen whether Suarez will partner Carroll in a 4-4-2 (like he did against Sunderland) or play just behind him in a 4-2-3-1 (as he did against Exeter). Despite an excellent Carling Cup outing, Maxi will probably lose out to summer purchase Stewart Downing in a battle to start on the left wing, with the Argentine providing a solid option to bring on from the bench. The most difficult position to predict is on the right wing, where new signing Jordan Henderson has thus far remained ahead of veteran Dirk Kuyt in the pecking order. Henderson has yet to find his best form for the Reds and the youngster may find himself relegated to the bench in favor of Kuyt, who performs with a metronomic consistency.
One recurring theme for Liverpool has been Dalglish granting his attackers a tremendous amount of freedom to operate where they see fit across the pitch. In last week's 4-2-3-1 against Arsenal, the attacking band of Downing-Henderson-Kuyt frequently swapped positions behind Andy Carroll and the Exeter match exhibited similar fluidity from the Reds.
After playing well against a loaded City team last week, Coyle's side will be confident they can leave Merseyside with at least a point. However, the Reds have upped their performance level in each successive match so far and it seems to be only a matter of time before Dalglish gets his squad into top gear.
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