Sunderland host Liverpool at the Stadium of Light in Saturday’s early kickoff as the two sides who are separated by five places face each other in what is a key game for both of them.

The game is a key one because the season could get harder for the team that loses. Liverpool, who are seven points off the top four places could drift further while Sunderland could sink into the lower half of the table. A look at the recent form of the teams will tell you that the clash could well end with a stalemate as Liverpool have had an average season away from home while Sunderland have been awful at home.

The Black Cats are winless in their last six home games while Liverpool have lost three of their last five away games. That being said, the Merseysiders have improved off late as compared to the toothless performances in early December that put manager Brendan Rodgers under a lot of pressure. The reverse fixture at Anfield ended in a drab goalless draw.

Tactics and Predicted Lineups

Liverpool

Since deploying a more attacking formation with three at the back, Liverpool have finally found the dynamism in attack once again. After persisting with Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert in attack, Brendan Rodgers gave Raheem Sterling the striker’s role and the 20-year old hasn’t disappointed. With Coutinho behind him, Sterling can make those clever runs and won’t have worry about being picked out as Coutinho’s passing has been good this season.

Liverpool’s biggest blow however will be the injury to Adam Lallana who has been one of their best players in the last few weeks. Lallana’s thigh injury will mean that Rodgers could play Steven Gerrard in an advanced role once again with Henderson and Lucas playing deeper roles. Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno will be expected to play as the wing backs and provide the width in attack. In defense, we could once again see the trio of Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho who have looked like forming a good partnership together.

Liverpool’s change of formation has seen them start games really well, and against an out of form Sunderland team, another quick start will be what they’ll need.

Predicted Starting XI: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Manquillo, Henderson, Lucas, Moreno, Gerrard, Coutinho, Sterling

lfc-XI

Sunderland

Sunderland have pretty much looked like a mid table team that can cause an occasional scare as they did against Manchester City last week. Gus Poyet’s side have struggled for consistency this season, so a win against Liverpool could serve as a fresh start to the second half of the season after losing to Manchester City on new years’ day. However, their home form has been very poor and considering the number of goals they have leaked this season, they will be underdogs against Liverpool.

That being said, their opponents Liverpool haven’t been in good defensive form either. As a result, the duo of Adam Johnson and  Steven Fletcher could prove to be a handful for the Reds. With Sebastian Larsson and Jordi Gomez in midfield and Jack Rodwell playing behind, Poyet has a good balance in the team. However, the attacking trio of Buckley, Johnson and Fletcher haven’t fired, which is a big concern.

In defense, the aging pair of Wes Brown and John O’Shea could be taken apart by Liverpool’s pace if the Rodwell fails to track Sterling’s runs. Billy Jones and Santiango Vergini will occupy the full back positions and will have to pressurize the wing backs of Liverpool who like to get forward.

Predicted Starting XI: Pantilimon, Vergini, Brown, O’Shea, Jones, Rodwell, Gomez, Larsson, Buckley, Johnson, Fletcher

sfc-XI

Key facts

  • Costel Pantilimon has the best saves to shots ratio of any Premier League goalkeeper this season (Source: Opta)
  • Liverpool have won five of their last eight Premier League visits to the Stadium of Light (Source: Opta)
  • Sunderland have scored a higher proportion of their goals in the final 15 minutes of Barclays Premier League games than any other side; 33% (Source: Opta)
  • Sunderland are yet to win a game at home since October 4th of last year when they beat Stoke City 3-1.
  • Liverpool are unbeaten in four games and their last defeat was to Manchester United in mid-December.

Player to watch out for

Raheem Sterling

Since playing as a striker, Sterling has been impressive but has scored just once, which came against Burnley, in the last four games. With a new contract looming, the youngster will want to get on the scoresheet and will be licking his lips after looking at the former Manchester United duo of Brown and O’Shea who are pretty old and lack pace at the back.

Prediction

Despite mentioning earlier that the game could end in a stalemate, it’s hard to find a case for Sunderland’s defense who will struggle against the pace of Liverpool.

Predicted scoreline: Sunderland 1-2 Liverpool