Stadium of Light, Sunderland
15 September, 2012; 17:30 BST
With the hope that the international break has sent players back with a fresh mind and approach to the Premier League, this weekend’s fixtures will be an exciting to say the least. And one of such fixtures is the game between Sunderland and Liverpool. Both teams are yet to record a victory this season and are dwindling in the bottom half of the table. Nothing less than three points will be the aim as Martin O’Neill’s side comes out against a Liverpool team that is treading on the path of resurgence.
Sunderland have drawn both the games they have played this season against Arsenal and Swansea. While this is a good show of their defensive side, O’Neill is not the kind who is happy just to hang around. The Black Cats have made some quality additions to the team this summer, with the likes of Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher and Louis Saha joining the ranks and making Sunderland another team capable of upsetting the top teams in the League, as showcased by their away performance at the Emirates on opening day.
Martin O’Neill, who was appointed last season after Steve Bruce was sacked, acted quickly to lift the club from its poor performances and gave them a decent finish to the season considering the team was in the sixteenth spot in the League table under Bruce. Understandably, expectations are high from the Irish manager so a win against Liverpool this season will be an indication of the team’s strengths and preparation for this year’s campaign.
If Liverpool are to lose their third (out of four) game, then it is a cause for concern in the dressing room. What Brendan Rodgers is attempting to bring at the club is not a small task in any aspect; and although his methodology has been tried and tested and worked before, the present situation of Liverpool’s absence from the European stage and competition for the top four means that Rodgers will be watched very, very closely. There is almost no room for error and the new manager needs to get things moving before hopes are dashed once again.
While there is promise and improvement in certain areas of the game with Liverpool this season, it doesn’t discount for the lack of conversions so far. With an average of 17 shots per game, the Reds have come out with just an average of three shots on goal. The two goals scored so far have come from set pieces in the draw against Manchester City at Anfield. Liverpool will have to turn this around soon to avoid a struggle in the later part of the season. Sunderland could be the place where the Reds can rise on their learning curve and be more lethal in front of goal.
Team News & Tactical Brief
This weekend’s fixture is one that Adam Johnson will eagerly be waiting for. The England international was forced to pull out of the national squad due to an injury and is currently recovering at the club’s training ground. O’Neill, at this point, is only hopeful of his return which will be a big boost to the side going into Saturday’s game against Liverpool.
“It’s too early to know whether he’ll be available but it would be great if he could make it.” – O’Neill on Johnson.
Apart from the club’s costliest signing this summer, Sunderland will be without the services of defenders Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown, both who have been out since pre-season due to a chipped ankle bone and a knee problem respectively. However, the pairing of new arrival Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea should provide an ample stop-gap arrangement.
Sunderland put up a strong performance against Arsenal on opening day and have shown that they aren’t an easy side to break. The key for the Black Cats in this game is the midfield. Liverpool have shown a marked improvement in possession in the middle of the pitch (averaging 44% of the distribution) and hence there is bound to be a strong midfield battle. Shutting out the likes of Allen and Sahin will be a huge responsibility for Cattermole and Larsson.
On the attacking front, O’Neill is likely to start with Sessegnon and new signing Steven Fletcher who has already had a bright start to this season having scored two goals already. The trickery of Sessegnon and the calmness of Fletcher in front of goal could prove to be a tough nut to crack for the Liverpool defence.
Larsson scored the leveller against Liverpool last season while he was at Birmingham City and few fans will be hoping he can cause an upset once again this time around.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Mignolet(GK); Gardner, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose; Meyler, Cattermole, Larsson, McClean; Sessegnon, Fletcher
Except for the injury of Lucas Leiva, Liverpool do not have any major injury concerns ahead of this game. The presence of Allen and Sahin in midfield seems to be an equally good pairing according to most pundits and media houses. Although we are yet to see the fruits of this partnership, much has been spoken about how Sahin and Allen can free up the front men (including Gerrard), hence posing a greater threat to the opposition.
Allen has been Liverpool’s star so far this season. Rodgers needed somebody accustomed to his ideology when he arrive at Liverpool and Allen has proved that he can be a mentor to most people in the team who are expected to slot into Rodgers’ style of play.
Ideally, each game should be an improvement over the previous one. This is the best way of judging Liverpool’s progress this season. The points may not come in thick and fast but the key thing for Liverpool this season is growth in terms of a brand of football and applying that consistently and this is what each one in the Liverpool colors wants to see.
In all likelihood, Brendan Rodgers will bring out the 4-3-3 formation once again, giving game time to Sahin, Allen and Gerrard to gel with each other on the pitch. Sterling, who has shown a lot of confidence coming up to the first team and featuring against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal could now be tested against a comparatively easy Sunderland side.
Suarez and Borini will complete the forward trio but with the lack of strikers at the club, the onus is on them to bring in the goals which transforms to quite a bit of pressure. The duo needs to pick up form soon.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Reina(GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Sahin, Allen, Gerrard; Sterling, Suarez, Borini
Key Match Facts
- In October 2009, Sunderland won this match thanks to a Darren Bent goal which infamously deflected off a beach ball past Pepe Reina.
- Luis Suarez has scored in two of his three Premier League appearances against Sunderland.
- Liverpool have kept only two clean sheets in their last 17 Premier League games.
- Martin O’Neill has coached a team 17 times against Liverpool in the Premier League, wining six, drawing six and losing five.
Player(s) to Watch Out For
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
The summer signing from Wolves has been in fine form at Sunderland right from the start. With the loss of Asamoah Gyan, O’Neill might have found just the right replacement to bolster his squad. He is surely going to be a threat to the Liverpool defence as he looks to add more numbers to his goal tally.
Nuri Sahin (Liverpool)
There is still a sense of excitement on the faces of Liverpool fans when the name Nuri Sahin is taken. The loan signing from Real Madrid made his debut against Arsenal in what was a fairly quiet game for the Turkish-born midfielder. Liverpool have him just for a season as of now so for the reputation he carries, the former German Footballer of the Year will be looking to make maximum impact in his time with Liverpool. Going into his second game with a little more confidence could set him apart from the rest.
Sunderland 0 – 2 Liverpool
It wouldn’t be too wrong to say that spirits in the Liverpool squad will be a little uplifted now that the lid on the Hillsborough disaster is taken off and the truth finally came out. Such things do have a psychological impact on the players, especially for the likes of Gerrard, Carragher and Reina – the senior most players at the club. Rodgers knows that the sense of calm now in the dressing room will put the players in good stead to carry them ahead this season and we can witness a more convincing performance from them in this game.
Blast from the Past
Stats courtesy whoscored.com