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 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, 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 returned 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 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. It means City have a full strength squad to select from as they look to open a three-point lead on Manchester United before their neighbours journey to Newcastle tomorrow night.
"Because we play two games in 48 hours, it's impossible to play the same players," said Mancini, who has cautioned his side to be more aware of being hit on the break, an area in which Liverpool, with the pace of Craig Bellamy, in form and looking to impose the law of the ex, will be a threat. "We need to pay attention in situations where we concede three or four counter-attacks," continued the City manager. "A top team can't concede situations like this. We want to try to score but sometimes you need to understand that there are some games you cannot score [in]."
Mancini 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. He said: "We have 45 points and I think we need another 45 points in the second half."
Liverpool greats pay tribute to 'true Scouser' Ablett
Liverpool greats Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush led the tributes to Gary Ablett, the former Liverpool and Everton defender who died yesterday at the age of 46 after a 16-month battle with cancer.
Rush described the Liverpool-born Ablett as a "true Scouser", while Hansen called him a "dedicated, consummate professional".
Dalglish handed Ablett (right), who joined the club as an apprentice, his debut in 1986 during his first spell as manager. Ablett went on to win two league titles and an FA Cup with Liverpool before joining Everton for £750,000 in 1992, where he won a second FA Cup to become the only player to lift the trophy for both clubs.
"He was a really good servant to the club, not only as a player but also as reserve-team coach," Dalglish said. "He served the club proudly and credibly. It's very sad."
Ablett, who also played for Birmingham City and managed Stockport County, had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2010, soon after taking a coaching role with Ipswich Town.
Hansen said: "He was a lovely guy and quite unassuming. It is such a shock even though we knew he was ill. We are absolutely stunned and cannot believe this has happened. [To die at] 46 years of age is absolutely tragic."
Rush said: "He sums up what people are like in Liverpool. What you saw is what you got with Gary. Whoever he played for, he gave 100 per cent. That's rare these days. In those days people just saw him as a normal player, but I think in today's game he'd be right up there."