Stadium of Light, Sunderland
20 March, 2011; 06:55 pm, IST
Exit stage left. There isn’t a more apt way to describe Liverpool’s season so far. The Europa League seemed to be a silver lining to an otherwise unkempt season and now that is out of the window too. Reality check – as the season is coming to an end, the sight of an empty space in the trophy cabinet, has made the arrival of new personnel on and off the pitch, look like slim pickings. The only ones throwing in a dust of luck for the Reds are the teams lurching around the 6th spot. Bolton’s loss to Manchester United and Tottenham’s draw with West Ham yesterday serve as the stepping stone for Liverpool to make their way to the 4th spot. Facing Sunderland hasn’t been that easy for the Reds’ in the recent past and going by their rollercoaster form, it is going to take a lot more than team selection and formation for Kenny Dalglish to pull off a victory at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland have had similar fortunes as their rivals this weekend albeit their performances have dipped since February. The Black Cats didn’t win a single game during the month of the Valentine and last earned a draw against Arsenal earlier this month – their first point since January 22nd. Hence Steve Bruce cannot really afford to ride on Liverpool’s gait for a victory and must scheme his own plot to squeeze three points at home. Whether this is going to be a high tension game or not, there is a slice of drama one can expect – Luis Suarez v Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanian international claims to be past the World Cup incident, but football is a sport that uncovers all shades of an individual irrespective of what the media publishes.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Dalglish will tread the road to the northeast, without the services of his captain Steven Gerrard. The midfielder underwent a groin surgery recently and is a few weeks away from match fitness. Martin Kelly, Fabio Aurelio and Jonjo Shelvey will accompany him on the sidelines. Daniel Agger has not yet touched total match fitness and is a doubt for this fixture, which means Danny Wilson is still in contention for a starting spot.
Aurelio’s absence brings Danny Wilson to left back again and the defender is still settling into the English game. Glen Johnson is likely to start at right back so Liverpool can continue to pose a threat going forward from the right side of defense. Going by a 4-3-3, Carroll will start at the centre upfront with Kuyt and Suarez lining up on his right and left. Meireles will be expected to supply the creativity from central midfield in the absence of Gerrard. Suarez never really acquires a particular position on the field and is more of a floating attacker. This makes player movements easier and helps players adopt the pass-and-move tactic on the pitch with a little more ease.
Kenny Dalglish has mentioned that lack of creativity cost them the game against Braga and hence, their exit from Europe. The players hence will know what exactly is expected of them and their pass-and-move philosophy would have to be fuelled if they are to walk away winners from the Stadium of Light.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Reina, Carragher, Wilson, Skrtel, Johnson, Lucas, Meireles, Maxi, Suarez, Kuyt, Carroll.
Well, there is no Darren Bent this time around and nor is there a beach ball for Sunderland. However, the welcoming news for the manager and fans is that this weekend marks the return of four of their first team players- skipper Lee Cattermole, Nedum Onuoha, Danny Welbeck and former Liverpool player Bolo Zenden. All 4 of them have been pivotal to Sunderland’s performances this season and their absence has hurt their results off late. Bruce will first be glad to have these lads back and has more options at his disposal this time around.
Sunderland’s defense does look stronger with the return of Cattermole. But the player is likely to start on the bench if Bruce chooses not to give him 90 minutes in his first return game. January signings Muntari and Sessegnon have had a strong impact since their arrival and they bring in a lot of energy to the central midfield. This is exactly where Liverpool needs to be more cautious. Lucas will be the key man for the Reds, protecting the defense. Sunderland will be wary of Carroll’s threat, which means Bramble and Ferdinand will have their task cut out. Blocking this tall Geordie is no easy task and going by the strength of his presence, guarding set pieces and corners will Sunderland’s primary focus.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Mignolet, Bardsley, Mensah, Bramble, Ferdinand, Muntari, Onuoha, Sessegnon, Henderson, Richardson, Gyan.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andy Carroll (Liverpool)
The Uruguayan Luis Suarez has opened his account at the club already and Andy Carroll will be itching to get off mark too. Although he hasn’t scored yet, he has shown what a menace he can be on the pitch. His first touch in the game against Manchester United at home was a header directed goal wards and his presence was sure difficult to deal with for Braga in the midweek Europa fixture. It is just a matter of time before he delivers and Sunderland could be the team he would poach.
Sunderland 1 – 2 Liverpool
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST