11am ET, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-1 Sunderland (a) 10.17.09
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.03.09
1-0 Liverpool (a) 08.16.08
3-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 United (a); 3-0 Lille (h); 4-1 Pompey (h)
United: 1-1 Villa (a); 3-1 Brum (h); 1-1 City (h)
Liverpool: Torres 16; Kuyt 9; Gerrard 6; Benayoun 5; Ngog 4; Babel 3; Johnson 2; Aquilani, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
Sunderland: Bent 20; Jones 8; Campbell 3; Reid, Turner 2; Henderson, Mensah, Richardson, Zenden 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Well, at least it’s not Mike “Hey, that’s a beach ball!” Jones.
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Maxi Aquilani Gerrard Babel
I’m tempted to maliciously suggest that Gerrard start on the left. If he’s truly packing it in for the World Cup, Liverpool may as well try to kill two birds with one stone: see if Stevie can help ease the left flank troubles and potentially cure his World Cup-itis by deploying him where Don Fabio will.
But what seems more likely, and would probably lead to a bit more cohesion in familiar positions, is a line-up similar (or exactly the same, as I've guessed) to that against Pompey two weeks ago. Aquilani and Babel back in (yes, yes, for Kuyt and Lucas), with Maxi shifting back to his preferred right flank. Aquilani seems much more likely to play these next seven league games, finally looking fitter and adapting to his surroundings. How he fares over the next two months will be crucial.
Otherwise, as usual, the line-up questions pertain most to the flanks. The above is what I want to see as well as what I think we’ll see, but as I wrote earlier in the week, at the least, pick from Kuyt/Maxi on one side and Babel/Benayoun on the other. And as usual, the defense and spine (outside of the Aquilani/Lucas debate), is less in doubt. Aurelio’s at least a week or two away from fitness, as is Skrtel, so the backline should remain the same for the fifth-straight game.
After struggling since mid-winter (where have I heard that before?), Sunderland’s picked up steam lately, losing just once in their last nine. Like Liverpool, their “revival” has come almost all at home; Sunderland’s first and only away league win came in the first match of the season. Bent’s scoring for fun, but he’s basically the only one doing so for Sunderland. Meanwhile, Mensah, Jones, and Reid are Sunderland’s injury doubts.
Benitez-led sides have always struggled against Steve Bruce’s teams, whether it's been Brum, Wigan, or Sunderland. One league win in nine, last year’s 3-2 comeback over Wigan, against those three teams when Bruce has been at the helm. His massive melon must obscure Rafa’s view of the pitch or something. Here’s hoping past is no precedent.
Just as here’s hoping the past 31 games aren’t precedent for the next seven. All Liverpool can do is win one and then keep winning.