7:45 EST, live in the US on Setanta Sports.
Last 4 head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.30.05
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.20.05
2-1 Sunderland (a) 12.15.02
0-0 (h) 11.17.02
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (h); 1-0 Toulouse (a); 2-1 Villa (a)
Sunderland: 0-3 Wigan (a); 2-2 Birmingham (a); 1-0 Tottenham (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Torres 1
Sunderland: Chopra 2; John 1
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Agger Arbeloa
Pennant Mascherano Alonso Riise
With so many players having featured for their countries midweek, the big question is how much will it affect the team sheet. There’s also the second leg of the Champions League qualifier next Tuesday to take into consideration.
However, even considering the thick run of games both before and after this match, I’d still like to see as little rotation as possible. Liverpool used the exact same line-up against both Villa and Chelsea, which surprised a few people. I’d like to see similar continue, although with Gerrard’s injury, the international fixtures, and the upcoming games, some changes are inevitable.
I hope that Mascherano and Sissoko don’t play together in the middle (my aversion to the pairing is well-documented), but it seems quite likely that Gerrard will be rested due to his toe fracture, and Xabi did play for Spain on Wednesday (albeit as a sub). There’s a good chance Momo and Masch will be the starters, and on first glance and considering how physical Sunderland can be, using Sissoko doesn’t seem out of the question.
Is this really a game for Momo, though? On first glance it seems so, as it will be a tough, physical game, but it’s also a game where Liverpool needs to be a class above offensively to get that away goal against lesser opposition that’s been so difficult in the past. It’s games like Barcelona, where Sissoko can stop the other team from playing, that he’s so effective.
As it’s a tough away match-up where Liverpool will try to keep possession, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crouch paired with Torres, although honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the 4 strikers starting. In the three games so far, either Torres/Kuyt or Crouch/Voronin have started, and it seems like this is a game where Liverpool could experiment with one of the other partnerships.
Torres is quickly becoming one of the first names on the team sheet and has looked very good with Kuyt, but I would like to see how he does with Crouch. Sunderland’s defense isn’t in the best state, with Paul McShane most likely out injured, and skipper Dean Whitehead, who had filled in at right back previously, out for the next month. Although it’s worth noting that by the end of the Chelsea game, Torres did look very tired.
I could see Babel getting a start on the left, and had Benayoun’s agent not made some unwarranted comments to the media, he wouldn’t have been out of the question either. But Riise and Arbeloa seem to be the first choice pairing down the left, and either Babel or Benayoun would be useful as a substitution if Liverpool need someone to help unlock a cagey game later on.
Agger played the full 90 minutes for Denmark and Finnan played for over an hour for Ireland, but rotating the defense in the league should be avoided if it can be helped. I’m also pretty sure that Hyypia will once again play against Toulouse next Tuesday, and that he too played a full 90 minutes for his country probably cements his exclusion.
This is another one of those games that’s essential for title contenders to win, and that Liverpool had trouble with last season. Sunderland is a tough place to play, and will be all season. And they’ve looked a pretty decent team so far aside from the last game at Wigan. Michael Chopra is on pace to keep on scoring as he did in the Championship last year, Craig Gordon is an outstanding goalkeeper worth the record £9m paid for him (I don’t say that lightly), and this is a tight-knit and tough to beat unit. And ex-Manc Roy Keane will want to put one over on Liverpool at the first time of asking.
It’s imperative that Liverpool does well over the next couple of games before the upcoming international break. In the span of a week, Liverpool plays two promoted teams and the second leg of the Champions League qualifier. There’s an opportunity to get points on the board and qualification for the group stage assured, to continue the good start to the season, before players go off for a week of Euro 08 qualifiers.
I would also hope the team is still resentful over last week’s disgrace of a match thanks to Rob Styles. Let’s see them make Sunderland pay for it.