01 January 2017

Liverpool at Sunderland 01.02.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.26.16
2-2 (h) 02.06.16
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.30.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 01.10.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 City (h); 4-1 Stoke (h); 1-0 Everton (a)
Sunderland: 1-4 Burnley (a); 1-3 United (a); 1-0 Watford (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 8; Lallana 7; Coutinho, Firmino, Milner, Origi 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip, Sturridge 1
Sunderland: Defoe 9; Anichebe, van Aanholt 3; Borini 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lovren Klavan Milner
Wijnaldum Stewart Can
Origi Sturridge

Don't you just love the Premier League?

Less than 48 hours after a knockdown, drag-out, I'm-tired-just-watching-it 1-0 win over Manchester City, Liverpool travel to Sunderland. It is good to see the league values the health of its players over television considerations. Happy New Year, suckers.

But Sunderland, aside from the lack of travel, are under same constraints.

You look at Liverpool's bench against Manchester City and wonder where the changes are coming. Both Origi and Sturridge seem a good place to start, as hinted by Klopp in today's press conference.

Which suggests a 4-4-2 diamond, as we saw the only other time these strikers have started together this season, against Tottenham in the League Cup two months ago. Even without the need to rotate, starting those two together might not be the worst idea given how thoroughly an insanely deep Sunderland stifled Liverpool at Anfield until Origi's 75th-minute wonder goal.

However, this is also the last match for Mané before the African Cup of Nations. I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the right, with Sturridge central and Origi ostensibly on the left. Although I guess he could play in the hole behind two strikers, as he did a few times for Southampton. Either way, I'm tempted to suggest Liverpool use him while they've got him.

Otherwise, it depends on who's fit enough after yesterday's exertions. Henderson won't play. Lallana probably won't either. You'd expect at least Clyne or Milner, or both, to be given a rest. I suspect it won't be a true completely changed XI, as we've seen in the League Cup at times, because this is the league and Liverpool want every point possible and Klopp knows more about these players' fitness than we do, but there have to be some alterations.

Let's guess Stewart, Alexander-Arnold, and Ejaria, although Lucas – in midfield or defense – and Moreno are also options. If Mané does play, I assume it'll be Ejaria left out unless Wijnaldum or Can is too fatigued.

Maybe Liverpool surprise us and play a stronger XI, with only Henderson left out after aggravating his heel injury. Klopp did surprise us with fairly strong League Cup XIs for most of last season and earlier in this. We've seen less rotation than expected in previous festive season games. He knows the fitness and the limitations of his squad far better than we do. But I'd be very, very surprised.

Meanwhile, Sunderland's constraints are probably even more severe than Liverpool's considering form and absentees.

After a very marginal renaissance, Sunderland have fallen back into the relegation zone after losing their last two matches by a combined 7-2 margin: 3-1 at United, 4-1 at Burnley. Admittedly, that's a bit misleading. Sunderland remain better at home lately: 1-0 Watford, 0-1 Chelsea, 2-1 Leicester, compared to three consecutive massacres on the road. Since the beginning of October, they've lost just two of six home games, against Arsenal and Chelsea, drawing West Brom and beating Hull, Leicester, and Watford. Arsenal's 4-1 win on October 29 was the only time the away side scored more than one goal.

Sunderland don't and won't attack any more because they're at home. And even with injuries, Sunderland can still defend. Sunderland will defend. That might be all they do, but chances are they'll do it competently.

Given Sunderland's absolutely horrific injury list – Anichebe, Pickford, Watmore, Cattermole, Kirchoff, Gooch, and McNair are definitely out, Koné and Denayer are very doubtful, and Billy Jones is suspended – as well as the need to rotate at least a little bit with a match 48 hours after the last, guessing their line-up is a bit of a challenge. That's five absent from Sunderland's starting XI when these sides met a little more than a month ago. So, who's available?

My best guess is Mannone; Love, O'Shea, Djilobodji, van Aanholt; Larsson, Ndong, Pienaar; Januzaj, Defoe, Borini. Khazri and Rodwell are other options in the "front" six; maybe Manquillo gets the nod over Love as stand-in right back; Larsson can play in central midfield or higher on the right. Otherwise, *shrug emoji*.

Jermain Defoe's the obvious danger, having scored more than half of Sunderland's league goals, necessarily capable of doing it all on his own. Van Aanholt's almost literally the only other goal-threat with Anichebe out, although Fabio Borini's obviously going to get a mention because of my constant fear of ex-Liverpool players.

The modus operandi for 2017 remains the same as 2016. Next game up, next man up. This will be a different test as Liverpool faced on Saturday, but Saturday doesn't matter anymore. The last match doesn't matter, precedent doesn't matter, necessary rotation and players unavailable shouldn't matter. Liverpool need to keep doing Liverpool, by any means necessary, whether it's blowing the doors off, grinding until you get a 75th minute wonder-goal, or building a brick wall after an early strike.

At this point, everything is about what's directly in front of you. Just win this, then worry about what comes next.


Vicky Agastya said...

Firmino scored 6 goals right?? And Origi scored only 4. Also, Own Goal is 1..
It's a mini ritual for me to count the goals scored while reading the match preview. So I noticed this.. Hope it's not a bad omen!!

nate said...

yeah, you're right, I must have gotten the goals messed up against Stoke.