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 has 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 13 January to submit any appeal to the 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 could miss up to five league games, Friday's FA Cup meeting with Oldham and both legs of their Carling Cup semi-final with City. It may mean him returning in time to play Everton next month. January is a busy period for both clubs. City play eight times and Liverpool seven.
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. A game on the first and third [of January] is a bit unreasonable."
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 will make changes to the side that lost at Sunderland and is likely to have his own problematic striker back; Mario Balotelli is fit after an ankle injury.
"Because we play two games in 48 hours, it's impossible to play the same players," said Mancini, who believes City need to match their tally of points from the first half of the season – including nine wins out of nine at home – to take the title.