By Mark Lawrenson
BBC Sport football expert
Carling Cup semi-final, second leg
Venue: Anfield Date: Wednesday, 25 January Kick-off: 1945 GMT Coverage: Watch live on Sky Sports 1 and highlights on The League Cup Show (BBC1, 2325 GMT); listen on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Merseyside; text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Gerrard penalty gives Liverpool edge

Liverpool’s Carling Cup semi-final game against Manchester City is pivotal for Kenny Dalglish’s side because they could be back at Wembley for the first time in 16 years.

As poor as they were against Bolton on Saturday, I don’t think they will play that badly again and I think Kenny identified the problem that one or two players already had their eyes on the semi-final.

He has made his point, saying to them: ‘That’s not how it works in this place, you play every game as if it might be your last’.

The second leg will be completely different to the first game at Etihad Stadium. I have seen City live a lot this season. In the first leg, that is the worst I’ve seen them. They were a bit rudderless, but David Silva wasn’t playing, and he’ll be back.

Also, Roberto Mancini’s hand is a little bit forced because his team have to score. I think he might play an extra attacking player, although they usually play with four anyway.

Liverpool might be five points off the Champions League spots but I think their fans will accept a cup win and Europa League qualification. They have a great chance of doing that if they beat City, because they would start as favourites against Cardiff in the League Cup final.

I said at the start of the season I didn’t think Liverpool would qualify for the Champions League because they are a little bit short and I think that’s exactly how it’s going to be.

Liverpool fans are a little bit different in so far as the ones who have been going week in week out for years know when they have a really good side.

They also know when they have a side which is a work in progress – which I think this one is. It is still short in one or two positions. Most Liverpool fans will look at this side and think, ‘If we get in the Champions League we will have done brilliantly’.

On Saturday against Bolton, Liverpool were poor defensively and normally that’s the real strength of the team.

They had a bad day so you can write that off. The problem with their attack and Andy Carroll in particular is that he played in a Newcastle team that played to his strengths. Liverpool don’t play that way.

I think Liverpool see Carroll as another option for them and, without the suspended Luis Suarez, they look really short up front. The problem is that Carroll needs to play every week to get his strength but at the moment he is just not the same player that Liverpool thought they signed from Newcastle. You cannot hide that.

I don’t think the £35m price tag would put Kenny under any additional pressure to pick Carroll, he just picks his team and that’s it.

I am a bit surprised that Dirk Kuyt hasn’t played that many games, especially when Suarez has been unavailable. Liverpool are a striker light in terms of somebody who can play off Suarez or someone who can play on his own up front when the Uruguayan is not around.

Steven Gerrard is back now but the other problem Liverpool have is that the midfield players aren’t weighing in with goals.

Regardless of Saturday’s result, there will be a reaction tonight. Manchester City are the top team in the league and Anfield will be coliseum-like.

Night games like this seem to cultivate a real spectacle at Anfield. Liverpool won’t be hungry to win, they will be starving.

Mark Lawrenson was talking to BBC Sport’s Alistair Magowan

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