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Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 03.20.11
2-2 (h) 09.25.10
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.28.10
0-1 Sunderland (a) 10.17.09
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Suarez Downing
Once more into the breach and whatnot.
As written in yesterday's season preview, the 4-2-3-1 looks like Dalglish's preferred formation – as much as Dalglish has a preferred formation. With Gerrard and Skrtel already out injured, tomorrow seems too soon for Suarez, too soon for Johnson, and too soon for new signing Jose Enrique. Dalglish pointedly refused to rule the first two out – saying that both Johnson and Suarez would be game time decisions – while Enrique announced he's ready to play whenever called up in his first interview for the official site.
It seems madness to risk Suarez after zero preseason appearances, having only rejoined the team earlier in the week. But Suarez is madness personified. And brilliance personified. And that's why I imagine he'll start if at all possible. Even if the Uruguayan doesn't make the first XI, he'll be one of the first names called off the bench.
Enrique and Johnson face higher hurdles. The former signed yesterday, and will train with his new teammates for the first time today. He's fit, and played in a few of Newcastle's friendlies; his participation is down to whether Dalglish feels comfortable slotting him into a "settled" backline (counterpoint: Liverpool's backline is never settled). The latter picked up a hamstring knock in the last friendly and shouldn't be risked so early in the season with Kelly and Flanagan both available.
If Suarez only makes the bench, Henderson or Aquilani should take his place behind Carroll. I still find it hard to believe that Aquilani will be a full-fledged Liverpool player this season, after all we've seen over the last two campaigns and all that's come out of his agent's mouth, but the Aquilanistas are out in full force. More likely, at least in my opinion, is Henderson facing his former club. At least we know that Henderson isn't any more likely to start based on sentiment and the opposition – Dalglish left Carroll out against Newcastle after all.
Sunderland are one of the few non-top-six sides to have notably strengthened during the summer, spending the Bent and Henderson money on reinforcements throughout the squad. Steve Bruce added Manc veterans O'Shea and Brown in the hopes that experience will prevent Sunderland's annual spring collapse. David Vaughan, Seb Larsson, and Craig Gardner are all seasoned Premiership midfielders.
Gyan's due for a breakout season, while Sessegnon showed glimpses of tricky potential in last year's run-in. Sunderland are likely to play 4-5-1/4-4-1-1, with Sessegnon behind Gyan; Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner and one other in midfield; and a backline of Bardsley-Brown-Turner-Richardson, with the vastly-underrated Mignolet in goal. The Black Cats haven't beaten Liverpool since the well-documented beach ball goal from two seasons ago, with two losses plus a 2-2 draw in the last Anfield meeting since. Steve Bruce's all-consuming voodoo over Benitez, so prevalent at Birmingham and Wigan, hasn't lasted since he joined Sunderland and Rafa got the sack.
Last season, Liverpool began its campaign at Anfield against Arsenal. The starting lineup was Reina; Johnson, Carra, Skrtel, Agger; Kuyt, Mascherano, Gerrard, Jovanovic; Cole; Ngog. I don't need to remind who the manager was. That game finished with a cruel kick to the nether regions, ending level as Reina palmed the ball into his own net with the final touch of the game, setting the tone for the duration of the campaign. Here's hoping this season begins better. And finishes far, far better.
Last warning for the OYB Fantasy League. It's hosted at the Premier League's game, and the entry code for the league is 302898-189271. With just under 100 participants so far, it's the biggest the league's been by some distance.