By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool will look to gain all three points against a struggling Sunderland side on Wednesday, especially with a difficult stretch of matches on the horizon.
The club has an opportunity to move into the eighth spot in the table with a win, as it would give Liverpool 31 points, leapfrogging both Stoke City and Swansea City. This is a high priority for the Reds, as they face Manchester United, Norwich City, Arsenal and Manchester City in the coming weeks.
Form may not be an issue for Liverpool, as the easy 3-0 victory against Queens Park Rangers over the weekend was arguably the best showing by the side this season. However, consistency has been an issue all year, so another win may be vital for confidence.
In the past 10 Premier League matches, Sunderland lost five, won four and drew one, which may help some fans of the Black Cats feel more confident about the club’s prospects of avoiding the drop. Despite the improved form from earlier in the year, Sunderland still finds itself only four points clear. A win at Anfield could significantly improve its chances of staying up.
Martin O’Neill’s side most recently lost to Tottenham, but there have been times this season where the Black Cats proved they can compete with the better sides in the league. On Boxing Day, Sunderland managed a shock 1-0 victory against title contenders Manchester City, while it also had a hard-fought draw against West Ham United earlier in the year.
If Liverpool is to defeat Sunderland, it may come down to forward Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan scorer carried Liverpool on his back through the first part of the season, and until reinforcements arrive, this will likely have to continue if the club is to be successful. Suarez has 16 goals for the club this season, far ahead of Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey, who have five each.
With rumors of attacking players set to sign – namely Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool winger Tom Ince – some relief may be on its way. Until players start coming in, the club will need to continue on with depth issues throughout much of the lineup.
This problem was made worse by defender Jose Enrique’s hamstring tear in the final minutes of the match at Loftus Road. This news may force manager Brendan Rodgers to use Stewart Downing in the full back role. He may also look to Andre Wisdom as another option in that position.
With Downing possibly going into the back four, Suso could make another start up front. This may help to build the young attacker’s confidence, as he is struggling to make himself a regular in the starting 11.
Sunderland will be without a trio of players for the match. Defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea will not be in the lineup due to injury. Brown is nursing a damaged knee, while O’Shea has a hamstring issue. Defensive midfielder Lee Cattermole is also out for the next several weeks with a knee problem.
Luckily for O’Neill’s side, Danny Rose will be available for selection. The defender missed the loss to Tottenham over the weekend due to loan ineligibility.
Liverpool has not defeated Sunderland in the Premier League since March 2011, when the club was helped to all three points by goals from Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez. Sunderland defeated Liverpool in March 2012 by a score of 1-0. The last time the two sides faced one another was in September, with the match ending in a 1-1 draw.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on ESPN2 or at WatchESPN.com. Those of you with computer access in the United States who cannot watch a stream, a radio feed of the match will be carried by TalkSPORT.
Liverpool v Sunderland
When: Wednesday, January 2, 1445 EST/1945 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: QPR 0-3 Liverpool, Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham
League Position 2011-12: Liverpool 10th (28 points), Sunderland 14th (22 points)
Projected Sunderland Starting 11
DEF: Kilgallon, Bramble, Cuellar, Rose
MID: McClean, Johnson, Colback, Gardner
FW: Fletcher, Sessegnon
Subs from: Westwood, Campbell, Adams, Egan, Bardsley, Vaughan, Meyler, Wickham, McFadden, Ji Dong-Won, Saha, Noble
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Downing
MID: Gerrard, Lucas, Allen
FW: Sterling, Suarez, Suso
Subs from: Jones, Flanagan, Wisdom, Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Cole, Sahin, Morgan, Shelvey, Yesil
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.