19 March 2011

Liverpool at Sunderland 03.20.11

9:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 09.25.10
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.28.10
0-1 Sunderland (a) 10.17.09
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.03.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Braga (h); 0-1 Braga (a); 3-1 United (h)
Sunderland: 0-0 Arsenal (a); 0-2 Everton (a); 1-2 Spurs (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 7; Meireles 5; Gerrard 4; Maxi 3; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Cole, Skrtel, Suarez 1
Sunderland: Gyan 9; Welbeck 6; Richardson 4; Bardsley 2; Henderson, Onouha 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Carragher Skrtel Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas Spearing Maxi
Kuyt Suarez

Liverpool needs to pick itself up quickly after Thursday's disappointment. Fifth place is improbable, but not an impossible dream.

It's controversial but I expect Carroll to be rested after having to play the full 90 minutes against Braga. Two starts in four days is a lot to ask for a recently-returned long-term absentee. However, it's worth noting Carroll absolutely destroyed the Mackems in the Tyne-Wear derby last Halloween. The Geordie didn't find the net in the 5-1 romp, but set up Nolan's second, won Ameobi's penalty, and crashed a header off the bar which led to Ameobi's rebound.

Two returns, one certain and one hopeful, should improve Liverpool immeasurably. Suarez will definitely start after his enforced absence in the Europa League, still basking in the glow of his all-action romp against United two weeks ago. Ideally, Agger – who returned to training on Tuesday – will slot straight into the back line. That alone would cut the hoofs by more than half. Liverpool still have just Carragher, Johnson, and Wilson available at full-back.

Sunderland currently sit 8th, four points behind Liverpool, and one of the few teams who could push the Reds further down the table by the end of the season. The draw against Arsenal two weeks ago was impressive more for Arsenal's wastefulness than Sunderland's fortitude. The Wearsiders are on an awful run, winless since January 22, with four losses and that draw at the Emirates since beating Blackpool. Funny, that was right around the time Sunderland sold Darren Bent. I'm sure it's just coincidence.

Having two weeks off has somewhat eased Sunderland's injury concerns. Cattermole could return after an extended absence, while Welbeck, Onouha, and Zenden should all be over lesser knocks. At home, Steve Bruce is slightly more likely to play 4-4-2 than usual, but 4-5-1 with Gyan up front and Welback on the left is a better bet. Henderson, Muntari, Sessengon and Richardson would fill out the rest of midfield in that formation. Goalkeeper Mignolet has been in good form, initially the stand-in for an injured Craig Gordon but now first choice on merit. It's actually a compliment to suggest he was just as responsible for the 0-0 at Arsenal as the referee and linesmen.

I can't help but mention last year's trip to the Stadium of Light, starring Mike Jones and his beach ball. Other than that comedy act, Liverpool have a decent record on Wearside, with six wins, one draw, and one loss in the previous eight visits since Sunderland were first promoted to the Premier League in 1996.

Obviously, Liverpool have to respond from this most recent setback. That Liverpool are/were even in the conversation shows the progress that's been made under Dalglish. At the same time, the two legs against Braga proved there's still quite some distance to go.

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