By Christopher Boulay
After last weekend’s loss to Arsenal, the success of the League Cup seems like a distant memory. Now in serious danger of dropping out of the Champions League race, Liverpool needs a positive result against Sunderland on Saturday in the Stadium of Light.
Liverpool, who are learning to deal with life without Daniel Agger – who is out with a rib injury – will have to continue to patch the back line. If manager Kenny Dalglish doesn’t go with Jamie Carragher, he may decide to take advantage of the seldom-used Uruguayan, Sebastian Coates. With Carragher’s painful display against Arsenal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to the bench for the youngster. In addition, Glen Johnson is questionable, as he is recovering from injury. However, he returned to full training Friday, and may be ready for the match. If he isn’t, expect Martin Kelly to take his place.
Steven Gerrard also may return to the squad, as he resumed training on Friday. The captain was injured on international duty, but may be back just in time to help the Reds get a vital three points.
Sunderland is no stranger to absences, as the club will be without Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole. Both are banned for card accumulation during the club’s 1-1 draw last weekend in the North East derby. In addition, Kieran Westwood may miss the match through injury. The club is already without former Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, as well as Titus Bramble, Kieran Westwood and Wes Brown for the long-term.
Despite Sunderland’s lack of depth in the squad at the moment, the club is still quite different from the previous meeting, when the two drew 1-1 in August. The Black Cats have witnessed a bit of a resurgence under Martin O’Neill, and it will be difficult to break down one of the hottest sides in the Premier League in recent months.
Luis Suarez and his partner – either Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt or Andy Carroll – will need to be aggressive to break down Sunderland’s defense. Furthermore, if the club is to soldier on toward a chance at fourth place, it needs to show now. That is, if it isn’t too late already.
Sunderland v Liverpool
When: Saturday, March 10 1500 BST/ 1000 ET
Where: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Premier League Table: Liverpool 7th (39 points), Sunderland 12th (34 points)
Last Premier League Match: Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal, Newcastle 1-1 Sunderland
Projected Sunderland Starting 11:
DEF: Bardsley, Turner, Bridge, O’Shea
MF: Vaughan, Larsson, Gardner, McClean
FW: Bendtner, Campbell
Subs from: Gordon, Brown, Kilgallon, Colback, Richardson, Elmohamady, Ji, Wickham
Projected Liverpool Starting 11:
DEF: Johnson, Skrtel, Coates, Enrique
MF: Kuyt, Gerrard, Adam, Downing
FW: Suarez, Carroll
Subs from: Doni, Carragher, Flanagan, Kelly, Wilson, Robinson, Maxi, Spearing, Henderson, Bellamy