3pm, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 08.16.08
3-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.08
2-0 Liverpool (a) 08.25.07
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.30.05
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Boro (a); 1-0 Real Madrid (a); 1-1 City (h)
Sunderland: 0-0 Arsenal (a); 2-0 Stoke (h); 1-2 Blackburn (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard 9; Torres 8; Kuyt 7; Alonso 3; Babel, Benayoun, Riera 2; Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher, Hyypia 1
Sunderland: Cisse 9; Jones 7; Chopra, Richardson 2; Collins, Healy, Leadbitter Malbranque, Reid 1
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a squad:
Darby Carragher Skrtel Insua
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Riera
This is the ultimate catch-22 for Benitez. It’s now a fight for fourth rather than a fight for first (although second’s certainly in play). Liverpool has to keep on in the league, but the team was abjectly awful two days ago. Torres is still carrying an ankle knock, while Gerrard left us fearful over his hamstring on Saturday, although reports say he’s fit to start. Alonso and Kuyt, two who have played a ton recently and have been so crucial, were two of the worst last time out. But Rafa can’t make that many changes with so much on the line, can he?
With everything up in the air, I’ll add one of my frequent disclaimers that this really is a guess. Which probably means I wouldn’t count on seeing it. But, as usual, I’ve got some half-baked reasons to explain my logic.
I guess I’ll start in central midfield. With all the games Alonso’s played, I reckon he’ll begin on the bench. And I’m scared to suggest a central pairing of Lucas and Mascherano. Maybe Aurelio could start in midfield again (I wouldn’t be that surprised to see a similar line-up as against Portsmouth), but he’s played almost as much as Alonso of late. So, perhaps we’ll get Gerrard deeper in midfield in the 4-4-2, with Kuyt and Babel up top and Benayoun and Riera on the flanks.
Babel wasn’t great on Saturday, but he offers something different through the center with Torres out. No matter how hard he works, the win at Newcastle with Kuyt as a lone striker is truly turning out to be the exception to the rule. Maybe pairing them together up top might help alleviate the goal drought, but if it’s the 4-2-3-1, I’m hopeful it’ll be Babel as the lone striker. Both Benayoun and Riera were rested on Saturday, which is the biggest clue that both will start.
Chances are, we’re not going to see two young fullbacks. But I truly hope we do. If Aurelio’s in midfield or rotated for fitness, I’d rather Insua over Dossena. Meanwhile, with Arbeloa still out, Liverpool’s very limited on the right. Degen’s made of glass. Carragher was supposedly too tired to play there on Saturday, and the less said about Skrtel in that role the better. Which would leave young Darby. He’s done well for the reserves, he’s seen first team action off the bench, and Liverpool need to get talent flowing from the Academy. Man, I hope we see Darby.
Not counting an extra time loss in the FA Cup replay against Blackburn a month ago, Sunderland’s unbeaten in their last five. Sbragia’s settled the club in the wake of Roy Keane’s tumultuous exit (Keane? Tumultuous? Surely you jest…), and with Jones and Cisse nearing fitness, they can be a dangerous team.
A win is essential now that the club’s in the pack with Chelsea and Villa. But a win’s been essential in a fair few games now. And every team has presented Liverpool with some sort of danger recently. Liverpool simply needs to be more deadly against teams who camp out in their own half. But this is not new information.