Luis Suarez will return to the Liverpool line-up tonight for the first of three meetings this month between his side and Manchester City, but whether the Uruguayan striker will be free to play in the next two remains to be seen as the club are still to decide whether to appeal against his eight-game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra.
Suarez missed Liverpool's defeat of Newcastle on Friday to serve a one-match suspension for an offensive gesture made at Fulham supporters. Liverpool have until January 13 to submit any appeal to the English Football Association and the club have said they will take their time before reaching a decision.
If they do appeal, they run the risk of the ban being increased but for the time being Suarez is free to play and Kenny Dalglish includes him in the squad for the short trip to the Etihad Stadium.
Should Liverpool decide this week to accept the punishment, Suarez, who has scored only one league goal in 10 matches since the clash with Evra, would miss five league games, Friday's FA Cup meeting with Oldham and both legs of their Carling Cup semi-final with City. It would mean he'd return in time to play Everton next month. February is a tough month for Dalglish with games against Tottenham and Manchester United preceding the derby.
January is a busy period for both clubs. City play eight times and Liverpool seven. Tonight's hosts have had two days less to prepare for the game -- a fixture they have a poor record in, having beaten Liverpool once in 13 meetings. The Liverpool manager, who will consider handing a starting place to Steven Gerrard, has a degree of sympathy for Roberto Mancini over the quick turnaround.
"People will say he has a massive squad and enough to field two teams but you have to take the players into consideration because they are the ones who are the main attraction," said Dalglish.
"There has to be a bit of common-sense and a game on the first and third (of January) is a bit unreasonable. There has to be a reasonable amount of time for players to recover. But television has been massively helpful to the Premier League so we cannot cut off the hand that feeds us."
On Gerrard, who came off the bench to score against Newcastle, Dalglish said: "He is a fantastic player but we have to remember that he is still feeling his way back into it."
Mancini has rarely been as angry with his players as he was in the aftermath of Sunday's surprise 1-0 defeat at Sunderland, storming down the tunnel before the final whistle to prepare for an angry post-match assessment of the team's failings.
But the Italian will not allow any bad feeling to fester as he looks to ensure the dip in results over Christmas does not turn into a new year slump.
City are expected to make several changes to their starting line-up, with Mancini hoping Mario Balotelli can shake off an ankle injury in time to add a more unpredictable cutting edge to the team's attacks.
David Silva and Sergio Aguero are also expected to start, with Adam Johnson and Samir Nasri -- who were regularly berated by their manager from the touchline at the Stadium of Light -- dropping to the bench.
"I hope it isn't going to be difficult to pick the players up after the defeat," said Mancini. "I hope they understand we are a top team and we cannot concede goals in the last minute on the counter-attack like we did at Sunderland.
"But it is finished and we have to think about the next game. I was disappointed, very disappointed after the game, but I want the players to have a positive reaction.
"We lost a big chance to go three points clear (of Manchester United). We have 45 points and we have scored 53 goals, these are things to be positive about."
Mancini has not ruled out dipping into the transfer market to add even more depth to his squad this month, but for now he is content to freshen up the starting line-up with the players he knows.
"Balotelli had a little problem with his ankle so for that reason we left him in the stands (at Sunderland)," Mancini added.
"I hope he is going to be okay for Liverpool. I will have to think about making changes because we are playing two games in 48 hours and that is very difficult.
"I trust all my players. They all know, no matter if I change six or seven, what they should do on the pitch. We are going through a period where we are being a little bit unlucky, but we will come out of it." (© Independent News Service)
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