25 March 2014

Liverpool v Sunderland 03.26.14

4pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (a) 09.29.13
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.02.13
1-1 (h) 09.15.12
0-1 Sunderland (a) 03.10.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 6-3 Cardiff (a); 3-0 United (a); 3-0 Southampton (a)
Sunderland: 0-2 Norwich (a); 0-0 Palace (h); 0-3 Hull (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 28; Sturridge 19; Gerrard 10; Sterling 7; Skrtel 6; Coutinho, Henderson 3; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Sunderland: A Johnson 7; Borini, Fletcher, Giaccherini 3; Bardsley, Colback, Gardner, Ki 2; Altidore, O'Shea 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Cissokho
Henderson Lucas
Sturridge Suarez

Two questions.

1) Now that Liverpool are back at Anfield, will Rodgers persist with the 4-4-2 diamond or revert to the 4-3-3?

2) How much will the manager rotate with this being Liverpool's first midweek match in more than a month?

As for the first: I've no idea. I suspect that it'll be the same formation as in the last three matches, despite the issues against Cardiff (and, to a lesser extent Southampton), but I wouldn't be surprised to see the opposite either. Rodgers, like most managers, has a tendency to stick with the devil he knows, but Liverpool will also want to go straight for Sunderland's jugular the moment the whistle blows, and including Sterling and playing with three up top may be a better way to do so.

As for the second: I suspect there will be some. As usual, we just don't know how many. Lucas, Sakho, and maybe Cissokho are the contenders. Agger, Allen, and Flanagan all had issues on Saturday, at least partly responsible for Cardiff scoring three. Permanent concerns about Agger's fitness, about Agger's ability to play three games in a week, means that Sakho is the most likely change. That Cissokho came on for Flanagan against Cardiff may also be telling. Finally, I'm not sure how Lucas fits into the diamond, with Gerrard unquestionably playing at the base, but I'm beginning to go through the first phase of Lucas withdrawal so let's find out.

Otherwise, Sterling seems the only other potential change, either for Coutinho in the 4-4-2 diamond or Allen if it's 4-3-3. Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Gerrard, Henderson, Sturridge, and Suarez are as nailed-on as possible. And – as I always do when the shoe's on the other foot – it's worth nothing that both Henderson and Mignolet will be facing their former club.

And that former club's not had the best of seasons, at least in the league.

Sunderland's last league win came on February 1, in the Tyne-Wear Derby. Since then, three losses and a draw, while also going out of both the League and FA Cups (albeit in the final of the former). Prior to this ignominious streak, Poyet's side was unbeaten in eight in all competitions, but the current slide has seen them slip back into the relegation zone, level on points with Liverpool's last opponent although with a better goal difference, and still three points from safety.

Sunderland will also have to cope with an entirely new left flank. Borini can't play due to the terms of his loan, while Marcos Alonso is suspended after being sent off on Saturday. Giaccherini or Scocco would be like-for-like replacements for Borini, although Poyet could also shift Johnson to the left and play Larsson on the right. Sunderland have three options at left-back: Colback, who's primarily a midfielder but has deputized at full-back before; Celutska, primarily a right-back but capable on the left; or Dossena, who you may remember, but hasn't played in a league match since December.

Which makes the most likely XI something like: Mannone; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Colback; Bridcutt, Ki; Johnson, Larsson, Giaccherini; Altidore. The USMNT striker's not had the best of times at Sunderland, but the Mackems have little choice with Borini ineligible and Fletcher likely to miss out with an ankle injury. The only other option is Connor Wickham, recently recalled from his loan at Leeds (where he registered zero goals in five games) because of Sunderland's lack of firepower. No matter the personnel, Poyet will play 4-2-3-1.

Take absolutely nothing for granted. No matter Liverpool's record at home, no matter Sunderland's record of late. The Mackems are fighting for their Premier League lives, and desperately need to wipe away the pervasive stink of failure at Norwich. Even considering how the final hour played out, you can't forget Liverpool's first 30 minutes at Cardiff.

Eight cup finals remain, and Liverpool can't be complacent in any of them.

Meta: Like Swansea, Norwich, and Fulham, there probably won't be a match review because damn you work. If the match does seem to require a write-up, it won't be until very late at night, but most likely, it'll be combined with the usual post-match infographic the next day.


Scouse_eh said...

Mackem Smackem?

Anonymous said...

As always I look forward to your match review Nate - one of the best LFC blogs out there, be even better if LFC win tomorrow!!!

Anonymous said...

that should be 3 p.m. Eastern time, Nate.