10am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.28.10
0-1 Sunderland (a) 10.17.09
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.03.09
1-0 Liverpool (a) 08.16.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Northampton [2-4 on penalties] (h); 2-3 United (a); 4-1 Steaua (h)
Sunderland: 1-2 West Ham (h); 1-1 Arsenal (h); 1-1 Wigan (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard 2; Torres, Ngog 1
Sunderland: Bent 3; Gyan 1
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Guess at a lineup:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Maxi Meireles Cole
Predicting the team is a lot easier, and a lot less fun, with Hodgson in charge. A day in advance, and the manager's announced that he'll make 11 changes to Wednesday's team. Which is exactly what I would have guessed anyway: the same XI that lost to United last Sunday. Also, by announcing it in the way he did, Hodgson once again seems to be blaming the players – with seven of the starters under the age of 23 – for Wednesday's loss. Sigh.
Admittedly, few had any chance of playing their way into contention following Wednesday's abortion. Shelvey's still too young for consideration, and Hodgson seemingly prefers Skrtel to Agger for some reason. Neither Lucas nor Spearing did enough to displace Poulsen, Jovanovic was anonymous outside of his goal, Kuyt's still doubtful at best (Utrecht is a better guess for a return), and Meireles needs to play. Eight players saw 120 minutes on Wednesday, which doesn't lend itself to a start three days later. That seemingly leads to the same team as in the last league match, unless Dirk makes a remarkable return (which I'm obviously hoping is the case).
Whether Meireles continues to play ahead of Gerrard is up for debate. It's not what we expected when Raul signed, but I suspect Roy will stay with the same ideas. Which means the Portuguese midfielder will operate as a de facto second striker, making the formation closer to 4-5-1 than 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1. But, ideally, with Liverpool at home, it'll see the Reds actually use the midfield three instead of punting the ball in the direction of Torres and hoping for the best. Fingers crossed.
After a dreadful, and dreadfully tough, start to league campaign, this match is the first in a stretch of five where Liverpool should expect to take maximum points more often than not: Sunderland (h), Blackpool (h), Everton (a), Blackburn (h), and Bolton (a), before hosting the inevitable league-leaders, Chelsea.
Sunderland, who also lost in the most-recent round of the Carling Cup at home, albeit to Premiership opposition, will be without Anton Ferdinand, Kieran Richardson, and potentially record-signing Asamoah Gyan due to injury. But Lee Cattermole is back from yet another suspension, while Titus Bramble will start despite being arrested on rape allegations Wednesday morning. As usual, Darren Bent's the dangerman, but he's scored two of his three league goals from the penalty spot; his only strike from open play was the late late late equalizer against Arsenal last week.
I'm wary of stating this given recent results, but Sunderland's perpetually struggled at Anfield, despite the specter of Steve Bruce, a manager who always gave Benitez fits. The Mackems haven't won at Anfield in my lifetime – since 1983 – and haven't scored there since September 23 2000, a day more than a decade ago. However, Liverpool been bucking trends and breaking precedent all season long.
As much as I'd love a vital victory, this season's demonstrated the need for lower standards. Tomorrow, I'm hoping Liverpool manages a shot on target from open play.