Stadium of Light, Sunderland
September 29, 2013; 15:00 GMT
The team with a controversial manager on his way out will face off against the team with a controversial player who has just come back into the side. This will be Sunderland AFC’s first game in the Premier League 2013-14 without sacked manager Paolo Di Canio, and will see interim manager Kevin Ball taking the reins for the second time after their mid-week triumph over Peterborough United in the League Cup. An injury plagued Liverpool FC will be ecstatic with the return of Luis Suarez, in his first Premier League match after his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
Simon Mignolet will face his ex-employers, though he will not have to face off against striker Fabio Borini, who is on loan from Liverpool and hence ineligible to face his parent club. Borini had been used by Paolo Di Canio when he wanted to field two strikers in his side.
Team News and Tactics
Sunderland AFC come into this match after a 2-0 victory against Peterborough, days after the sacking of Paolo Di Canio. While this would have lent the team a lot of much needed confidence, beating a League One team is hardly evidence of a strong Premier League side. ‘Caretaker’ Kevin Ball has nudged his resume forward for consideration for the permanent managerial role at the club – a role for which Roberto Di Matteo and Gus Poyet have been labelled front-runners – and a win over Liverpool will go a long way in convincing the management that he is the man for the job.
Despite decent amount of investment in player procurement during the summer, Sunderland isn’t a very impressive squad as a whole. Especially now that Steven Fletcher is out with a shoulder injury. The highlight of the starting 11 is the Italian Emanuele Giacherrini, who can play either on the left or behind the striker. The striker, in this case, would be Jozy Altidore in the absence of Fletcher and Borini (who can’t play against his parent club). The back four of Craig Gardner, Carlos Cuellar, John O’Shea and Jack Colback is likely to be utilised in front of ‘keeper Keiren Westwood, while Lee Cattermole and Ki-Sung-Yueng will continue their destructive pairing in central midfield. The versatile Sebastian Larsson and winger Adam Johnson will complete the midfield.
With American Jozy Altidore as the focal point of the attack, Sunderland will be looking to the guile and creativity of Johnson and Giaccherini to supply the ball to the striker. Seb Larsson is a versatile player, who is more than capable of causing damage both from set pieces as well as open play. The rest of the team will be focused on keeping the Liverpool attack at bay. Things could get interesting whenever Lee Cattermole and Luis Suarez face off, as both have a reputation for getting into trouble.
Probable Line-Up [4-4-1-1]: Westwood; Gardner, Cueller, O’Shea, Colback; Larsson, Cattermole, Ki, Johnson; Giaccherini; Altidore
Probable Line-Up [3-4-1-2]: Mignolet; Toure, Skrtel, Sakho; Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas, Enrique; Moses; Sturridge, Suarez
Brendan Rodgers’ biggest challenge is to play his two best players – Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – in the starting 11, as both have excelled while playing as a lone striker. Playing two strikers is a challenge, one solution to which could have been fielding Luis to the left of attack. However Rodgers seems to have come up with an elegant solution, one he displayed in the 1-0 loss against Manchester United in mid-week: a 3-4-1-2 formation.
Without creator-in-chief Philippe Coutinho, Rodgers’ favorite 4-2-3-1 formation loses its potency when using Iago Aspas or Jordan Henderson in the injured Brazilian’s central attacking midfielder role. This was quite evident in the loss to Southampton last week, when the team was not only beaten, but outplayed for large durations of the match. The 3-4-1-2 formation will allow the team to be somewhat more direct in its approach. With Daniel Agger’s injury status still somewhat unclear, Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho should start in defence. Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva will form the familiar central midfield pairing, with Henderson on the right and Jose Enrique on the left. Up front, Victor Moses will play behind the two-man strike-force of Suarez and Sturridge.
Defensively the formation should be extremely solid, at the expense of the team’s ability to build attacks from the midfield. To somewhat over-simplify, in Liverpool’s typical 4-2-3-1 the center-halves and the central-midfielders (Gerrard and Lucas) are the ones with the majority of the defensive responsibilities, while the remaining 6 outfield players are free to move forward in attack. In the 3-4-1-2 formation, there are 5 players (instead of 4) who have the major defensive responsibility (3 center-halves and 2 center-mids) while the remaining 5 are more attacking. The advantage is that while there are fewer attackers over-all, there are two strikers and hence a good chance of success from a more direct approach.
- In the last 6 matches between the two sides, the record between the two sides is: Liverpool 2, Sunderland 1, Drawn 3.
- Simon Mignolet made a stunning 149 saves in the 38 matches he featured in for Sunderland in the 2012-13 season.
- Jozy Altidore was one of the best players in the Eredivisie last season (while playing for AZ Alkmaar) with 23 goals in the league and 8 in the KNVB Cup.
Player To Watch
The man is back. Luis Suarez, after creating a merry media circus throughout the summer transfer window, is now back in the Liverpool side. While he might not be in the best of shapes after not having played a single League match this season, his talent is undeniable, and Sunderland’s defence will have to give a mighty performance to stop this man from scoring against them. His partnership with Sturridge has reaped great rewards in the past for Liverpool, and Rodgers will be hoping Luis Suarez will use this match to announce his comeback in the Premier League.
Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool
Aside from the loss to Southampton, Liverpool have been in stunning form (including the loss to Man United, where they were on top for most of the match). Sunderland, on the other hand, are a team in turmoil. While players may have felt uplifted while beating a League One side in the Capital One Cup, but it won’t take much to deflate their morale. Like, say, a passing team like Liverpool which will not allow them time on the ball and will pummel them with attack after attack. Luis Suarez should get on the scoresheet to remind everyone why Arsene Wenger was dying to book his services, despite the Uruguayan’s poor disciplinary record.