Dress rehearsal for Europa League final?
Kick-off: Sunday, April 11, 2010 - 15:00 GMT
Two would-be Europa League champions go head-to-head this weekend as fellow semi-finalists Liverpool and Fulham return to domestic duty.
The Reds' 4-1 defeat of Benfica on Thursday evening has set up a tantalising last-four tie with Atletico Madrid, while the Cottagers will face Hamburg after edging past Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony.
That means England's sole remaining representatives in European competition are on track to meet in the final, and so Sunday's clash at Anfield could provide a preview of what may transpire at the HSH Nordbank Arena on May 12.
Liverpool certainly won't be thinking that far ahead, however, with some ground to make up in the Premier League if they wish to hold onto their 'Big Four' status.
Rafael Benitez's men are trailing Manchester City by four points, and Tottenham Hotspur by three, in the race for Champions League qualification. Both the Citizens and the Lilywhites also hold a game in hand over the Reds, so failure against Fulham is not an option.
For Roy Hodgson and his charges, anything but defeat on Merseyside will be considered a success after their recent struggles in the league.
Last weekend's win over Wigan Athletic ended a horror run that saw the Londoners take just one point from four games as they slipped into the lower half of the table, where they currently reside in 12th place.
The odds are firmly against Fulham making it two wins on the trot, however, as they have never won at Anfield.
Apr 8: Liverpool 4-1 Benfica (Europa League)
Apr 4: Birmingham City 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Apr 1: Benfica 2-1 Liverpool (Europa League)
Mar 28: Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
Mar 21: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Apr 8: Wolfsburg 0-1 Fulham (Europa League)
Apr 4: Fulham 2-1 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)
Apr 1: Fulham 2-1 Wolfsburg (Europa League)
Mar 27: Hull City 2-0 Fulham (Premier League)
Mar 24: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Fulham (FA Cup)
Fears that talismanic frontamn Fernando Torres could sit out appear to be unfounded, as the Spanish striker - who aggravated a minor knee problem during his two-goal display against Benfica - is expected to take his place in the starting line-up.
Left-flankers Ryan Babel and Emiliano Insua return from suspension, while Alberto Aquilani and Maxi Rodriguez are also back in the mix.
Defensive trio Fabio Aurelio (thigh), Martin Skrtel (foot) and Martin Kelly (knee) all remain sidelined.
Last starting XI (v Benfica): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger; Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun; Torres.
The in-form Bobby Zamora is a serious doubt after the England World Cup hopeful hobbled out of Thursday's win over Wolfsburg - in which he scored the only goal - with an Achilles injury.
Roma loanee Stefano Okaka is on standby to make his first Premier League start, while virus victim David Elm could also make the matchday squad after being discharged from hospital during the week.
Simon Davies is a 50-50 chance due to a rib injury, while American star Clint Dempsey (thigh) is certain to sit out.
Last starting XI (v Wolfsburg): Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies; Gera, Zamora.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Liverpool - Daniel Agger
The Dane has proven beyond doubt this season that, when fit, he is one of the classiest defenders around. His form of late has been nothing short of imperious, including a fine fill-in display at left-back during the week, and his ability to construct attacks from deep could prove important in this sort of encounter.
Fulham - Danny Murphy
He was discarded by Rafael Benitez in 2004 and looked like slipping into ignominy soon after, but Murphy and Fulham has been a match made in heaven. The former England international is the essence of the Cottagers' midfield and will relish the opportunity to strut his stuff in front of the Kop once again.
Although buoyed by their midweek triumph in Europe, Fulham's abject displays away from home in the Premier League this season, with only one win from 16 excursions, make Liverpool hot-favourites to gain a processional victory.
Liverpool 2-0 Fulham
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