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Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.02.13
1-1 (h) 09.15.12
0-1 Sunderland (a) 03.10.12
1-1 (h) 08.13.11
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 United (a); 0-1 Southampton (h); 2-2 Swansea (a)
Sunderland: 2-0 Peterborough (h); 0-3 West Brom (a); 1-3 Arsenal (h)
Liverpool: Sturridge 3; Moses 1
Sunderland: Fletcher, Gardner, Giaccherini 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Guess at a line-up:
Toure Skrtel Sakho
Henderson Gerrard Lucas Enrique
From unbeaten in five to winless in three. Crisis! Crisis! That's how quickly narratives can change.
Liverpool's XI should be fairly close to Wednesday's, if not exactly the same. The bigger question is whether Liverpool will play the same 3-4-1-2 system or the more usual 4-2-3-1.
Yes, I still worry about players' fitness after three matches in eight days, especially in regards to Gerrard and Sturridge. But unless forced, Rodgers has been reticent to leave key players out, especially Liverpool's captain and Liverpool's main (often sole) goal-scorer.
All told, except for one set play, Liverpool's 3-4-1-2 system worked well: creating chances, managing possession, and completing passes at a better rate than against any opposition this season save Stoke, despite playing against United at Old Trafford, even if it was a largely second-string United. I;d like to see it get a second chance, a chance to win a match if it Liverpool can actually convert its chances. Sunderland's 4-2-3-1 system, often with inverted wingers in the attacking line of three and central midfielders out of position at full-back, seems to fit Liverpool's three-at-the-back formation as well.
One possible change is that Daniel Agger may be fit. Emphasis, sadly, is on the "may," no matter his losing Lovren for Southampton's winner last week. But if Agger is fit, does he replace Skrtel or Sakho, or does Liverpool revert to a four-man defense? Or would it be both? Given that Skrtel's still mistake-prone – when he's good, he's good, but when he's bad, he's damagingly bad – it'd almost certainly be Sakho that's preferred in the middle of the three-man defense, the best in the air of Liverpool's four center-backs. A four-man defense could feature Toure at either center-back or right-back, or Skrtel and Sakho or Sakho and Agger as center-backs. In attack, it'd most likely be Suarez as the #10 with Henderson and Moses wide.
Sunderland, still without a permanent manager after firing Di Canio a week ago, will again have Kevin Ball as caretaker. Which makes it harder to predict either lineup or form. And will there be a "new" manager bounce? This will be Ball's second caretaker stint at the club, in charge for two months at the end of 2005-06, when Sunderland were relegated with a then record-low of 15 points that season.
The Mackems have just taken just one point from the five matches this season, an away draw at Southampton. A side that Liverpool failed to beat, failed to score against, pretty much failed to even threaten to score against. And Sunderland got that point by doing what Liverpool tried but were unable to do: getting the early goal, then holding Southampton at bay. Well, at least until the 88th minute, when a Southampton center back popped up on a set play. Which may sound familiar. Sunderland have conceded in every match this season: once against Fulham and Southampton and then three in each of the last three matches, against Palace, Arsenal, and West Brom.
Steven Fletcher is out with a similar shoulder injury as Coutinho, while Wes Brown is also a confirmed absence. Celustka, O'Shea, and Dossena are questionable, but should be available. Ball used a full-strength lineup in Tuesday's League Cup win over Peterborough, which gives us a best guess for Sunday's XI. Westwood; Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Colback; Cattermole, Ki; Johnson, Giaccherini, Larsson; Altidore. Like Liverpool against Southampton, neither of Sunderland's fullbacks would be actual fullbacks; both Gardner and Colback are midfielders by trade, even if they've often been used in these positions over the last few months. Giaccherini was outstanding as the #10, albeit against a League One side.
Traveling to the bottom-placed side in the division, the only side without a win and the only side without a permanent manager, gives Liverpool a chance to change the narrative. Liverpool won 3-0 at the Stadium of Light last season, easily swatting Sunderland aside, an attacking masterclass from Luis Suarez. Soon enough, with incredibly difficult fixtures to come beginning in November, Liverpool will have fewer and fewer opportunities to change that narrative.