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Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.26.14
3-1 Liverpool (a) 09.29.13
3-0 Liverpool (h) 01.02.13
1-1 (a) 09.15.12
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Leicester (a); 1-0 Stoke (h); 2-2 Ludogorets (a)
Sunderland: 1-4 City (h); 0-0 Chelsea (h); 0-0 Leicester (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Own Goal, Sterling 3; Henderson, Lallana 2; Can, Coutinho, Johnson, Lambert, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Sunderland: Fletcher 4; Larsson, Wickham 2; Cattermole, Gomez, Johnson, Rodwell 1
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Moreno
Henderson Coutinho Lallana
Okay. It's Liverpool's fifth match in 13 days. Lambert, Sterling, Johnson, Skrtel and Mignolet have all started the last four. Lucas, Toure, and Henderson have started the last three. And Liverpool host Basel on Tuesday to determine who'll progress to the Champions League knockout rounds.
Something has to give. But, unsurprisingly, I can only guess at what that means for Liverpool's starting XI.
So, for the sake of argument, let's assume that Lambert, Sterling, Lucas, and Toure will be rested. They seem the most in need and the most likely, although there are arguments against leaving out all four. At least Sakho's back in training and should be available, which is a boon, allowing Toure a break without needing the very-out-of-form Lovren to come back in. But center-backs usually need to be rested less than other outfield players; even Benitez, who rotated constantly, rarely altered his central pairing.
Borini hasn't even made the bench in the last two matches, but Lambert has looked the most in need of a respite, and there's also the fun subplot of Borini facing his former side, one which he refused to join last summer. Emre Can, while much more of a box-to-box player, is still a reasonable replacement for Lucas, although Lucas has played fewer minutes than all but Toure in the above list, and was the most impressive of the four against Leicester. Sterling seemingly cannot keep playing every match, but was also fairly good at Leicester on Tuesday, better than he had been in the three previous matches. But, still only 19, he's played more minutes than any other outfield player this season, and Liverpool have the option of using Lallana or Coutinho or Markovic in his stead, with Sterling available as a change of pace off the bench if needed.
Gerrard will almost certainly start against both Basel and Manchester United next Sunday, so it makes a certain amount of sense to rest him here as well. But I don't know if Rodgers would be comfortable leaving out both Gerrard and Sterling, Liverpool's top two scorers (if you discount Own Goal's contributions). And then there was the whole "OMG HE DIDN'T START AGAINST STOKE" fiasco (even though Liverpool won!), which probably also gives Rodgers pause.
So I'm guessing a somewhat makeshift XI around those players being rested, but I suspect we'll see at least a couple of them start, just because Rodgers will want to avoid too many changes with Liverpool actually on a two-match winning streak. I just have no idea which couple it'll be.
Sunderland's last two away matches were at Leicester and Crystal Palace, the same as Liverpool's last two away fixtures. And they beat Palace 3-1, the same scoreline Liverpool lost by. That, on November 3rd, was Sunderland's last win. They were held 0-0 at Leicester three weeks ago, a Leicester side who gave away three goals to a Liverpool's team who fervently struggles to score.
That sums up Sunderland fairly well. They can stifle Chelsea to a 0-0 draw, the only side who've held Chelsea scoreless all season, then follow it up by conceding four against Manchester City. They'll lose 0-8 to Southampton, the biggest scoreline in the Premier League this season, then battle Arsenal to a 0-2 result which more than flatters Arsenal.
As it has for Liverpool, Sunderland's three games in a week will somewhat expose their small squad. I suspect their XI will feature many of the same players who've featured against both Chelsea and City. Adam Johnson and Wes Brown were rested against City, so they'll come back into the line-up. Something like Pantilimon; Vergini, O'Shea, Brown, Reveillere; Cattermole; Johnson, Larsson, Rodwell, Wickham; Fletcher.
However, Gus Poyet does have a few options. Steven Fletcher is carrying a slight knock from Wednesday's match at City, so Jozy Altidore could start instead. Ricky Alvarez, formerly of Inter Milan, is an option on either flank, as is Will Buckley. Jordi Gomez could start in place of Larsson or Rodwell. Billy Jones, van Aanholt, and Giaccherini are Sunderland's only injury concerns, while Seba Coates is ineligible to face Liverpool.
So, which Sunderland will Liverpool get tomorrow? The resilient defense and determined counter-attack (which is also more than capable from set plays) or the leaky defense and hapless goal-scorers? Given Liverpool's season so far, I expect the former – Sunderland did battle to a 1-2 loss in this fixture last season, against a much better Liverpool – but it depends on Sunderland as much as it does Liverpool.
And, just as importantly, which Liverpool will we get tomorrow?
Nota Bene: Friend's wedding tomorrow (who schedules weddings during football season?) so no match review. Maybe will get one up early Sunday, but more likely it'll be the usual midweek deal of no match review, slightly longer match infographic on Monday.