12:30pm ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Sunderland (a) 03.10.12
1-1 (h) 08.13.11
2-0 Liverpool (a) 03.28.11
2-2 (h) 09.25.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Arsenal (h); 1-1 Hearts (h); 2-2 City (h)
Sunderland: 2-2 Swansea (a); 2-0 Morecambe (h); 0-0 Arsenal (a)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Borini Gerrard Sterling
"The worst start to a league campaign in fifty years." "The last time Liverpool failed to win at least one of its first four league fixtures was 1911-12." "Liverpool currently have the worst conversion rate and lowest shooting accuracy in the league." "Liverpool have kept just two clean sheets in its last 17 league matches."
So, how were your two weeks without Premier League football?
I imagine Brendan Rodgers' were less than enjoyable. All those issues, still adjusting to his new job and his understrength squad, and almost everyone goes away for international duties.
Liverpool's small squad means the line-up should be fairly predictable. Şahin or Shelvey, will Enrique finally be fit? Otherwise, basically the same as against Arsenal, the same as against Manchester City.
Nuri Şahin struggled against Arsenal, both in his role in Rodgers' system and in general match fitness. Despite conceding a second soon after, Liverpool looked better when Shelvey entered the fray two weeks ago, and better when Shelvey had to replace Lucas early against Manchester City. Şahin came on as a substitute in both of Turkey's international matches, for 10 minutes against Estonia and for 30 minutes against the Netherlands, so his match fitness should be improving, but he's had little time to adjust to Liverpool's style of play and his necessary movement in relation to Allen, Gerrard, and the rest of the Liverpool team. Which leads me to think that Shelvey's a more likely starter tomorrow. Then I remember Rodgers' willingness to throw Şahin in the deep end last time out, and reckon that'll probably be the case again tomorrow.
If Enrique's absent again, chances are Downing will have to play left back, as Martin Kelly is also doubtful after picking up an injury in Monday's u21 match. Whether it's Enrique, Downing, or Johnson, they'll have to cope with Adam Johnson's pace – if the winger's fit after pulling out of the England squad with a thigh injury – or Seb Larsson's guile, a dangerous player in his own right but less of a threat when running at defenders. Either will be tough opposition.
As usual, you know what you get with a Martin O'Neill side. Wingers attacking, defenders defending, a contentious, physical midfield, and a target man up front. Steven Fletcher – that target man – is Sunderland's club record signing, scoring twice in five minutes on his debut against Swansea. Fletcher's good in the air, scoring more than half his goals via headers, and (unlike Liverpool) a clinical finisher; only Frank Lampard had a better clear-cut chance conversion rate last season. Left winger James McClean and attacking midfielder Stephane Sessegnon will also be threats.
Sunderland had to use two midfielders as fullbacks against Swansea, with Gardner at right back and Colback on the left. Gardner looks likely to continue in this role due to Phil Bardsley's absence, but on-loan Danny Rose could make his debut on the left. Assuming Johnson's absent, Cattermole's fit (he had to go off in the first half against Swansea because of a dead leg), and Rose will debut, I'd expect their line-up to be Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Cattermole, Colback; Larsson, Sessegnon, McClean; Fletcher.
Like Liverpool, Sunderland are still winless, but have drawn twice rather than Liverpool's two losses and a draw. Both of their draws were heartening rather than disconcerting: defending excellently against Arsenal (who, I doubt I need remind, ran over Liverpool last time out) then holding a surprising Swansea side which had won its two previous matches 5-0 and 3-0. Tomorrow will be the Mackems' first home match of the season, as the fixture with Reading was postponed due to a water-logged pitch.
The litany of concerns that started this preview demonstrate the amount of pressure Liverpool will be under tomorrow, both external and internal. I have no idea whether this week's Hillsborough revelations will exacerbate that pressure or invigorate the players, but it will be an emotional day regardless. One can only hope it'll be a rewarding one as well.