The FourFourTwo Preview: Sunderland vs Liverpool

Premier League | Stadium of Light | Sun 29 Sep | 4pm

Billed as

Managerless strugglers try to upset the team who bought their best player.

The lowdown

Oh, Sunderland. Who could have seen this coming? Incredibly, astoundingly, unbelievably, their experiment with an Italian hand grenade didn’t last long, and the Black Cats find themselves back at square one. It’s worse than that: more likely square zero or, er, go back three spaces (where the HELL is this going?).

SUNDERLAND FORM

  • S'land 2-0 Peterborough (LC)
  • West Brom 3-0 S'land (Prem)
  • S'land 1-3 Arsenal (Prem)
  • Crystal Palace 3-1 S'land (Prem)
  • S'land 4-2 MK Dons (LC)

LIVERPOOL FORM

  • Man Utd 1-0 Liverpool (LC)
  • Liverpool 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
  • Swansea 2-2 Liverpool (Prem)
  • Liverpool 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
  • Liverpool 4-2 Notts County (LC)

Having given Paolo Di Canio free rein to bring in his own backroom staff and sign 14 players – admittedly for roughly the same combined fee as the club recouped in sales – Sunderland are bulging with names that have nothing in common apart from being new to this league. There was no cohesion even with their master present, and now he’s gone.

Or maybe this is the uniting moment, as the nasty man leaves and the battered and bruised Black Cats emerge from the basement, blinking into the light. Possibly.

Things are much rosier at Liverpool, even coming off the back of two 1-0 defeats. Daniel Sturridge is in the goals, they’ve closed out games well when they weren’t last season and Simon Mignolet’s performances have left Reds supporters asking, “Pepe who?” (It’s Reina. Pepe Reina.)

However, they’re really missing a central creative threat while Philippe Coutinho is injured. The Brazilian was linking midfield and attack well and Iago Aspas, more a striker or wide forward, didn’t thrive in his position against Southampton. Too often the Spaniard drifted wide, into his natural position, and completed only 13 of 20 passes. A trequartista he ain’t.

Maybe the answer is to return to 4-3-3, at least until Coutinho’s return in a month. Sturridge and prodigal son Luis Suarez would benefit from having the freedom to switch positions up front. Either way, anything but a win at the Stadium of Light would be disappointing.

Team news

With Glen Johnson (ankle) and Aly Cissokhko (ankle) injured and Martin Kelly short of match fitness (though he does have two working ankles), Liverpool may continue to play three centre-backs with Kolo Toure wide.

With injuries to Steven Fletcher (shoulder), Wes Brown (calf) and Phil Bardsley (foot), Sunderland are potentially short of goals, experience and Phil Bardsley. Andrea Dossena faces a late competence test.

Player to watch: Ki Sung-Yeung (Sunderland)

Home or not, this may be a containing job for Sunderland. Southampton had a good go at Liverpool in their win, and could have scored more but for some fine saves by Mignolet, but Sunderland need to focus on defence first and foremost.

The Prem’s rock-bottom team have conceded three goals in each of their last three league games, to Arsenal and the extremely goal-shy pair West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, who have both scored only one in their four other matches.

So who can keep out Suarez, Sturridge & Co? Believe it or not, the answer may be Ki Sung-Yeung, on loan from Swansea. Modibo Diakité has been strong in the air, but Liverpool won’t be playing in the air. Ki has the job of cutting out their midfield passes, and having made three interceptions and a number of tackles against West Brom, he’ll need to protect his defence even more this time out as well as launching attacks.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland (Prem, Jan 13)
  • Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool (Prem, Sep 12)
  • Sunderland 1-0 Liverpool (Prem, Mar 12
  • Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland (Prem, Aug 11)
  • Sunderland 0-2 Liverpool (Prem, Mar 11)

The managers

Assistant Kevin Ball is bossing Sunderland for this game, and he has thrown his figurative hat into the proverbial ring for the permanent job. The former Black Cats player has said he enjoyed his previous caretaker spell at Sunderland in 2006 when he took over from Mick McCarthy in their infamous 15-point season, even if they did finish bottom, win one game (2-1 over Fulham – guess their scorers*) and lose 4-1 to Newcastle. He’s keen, but it’d take a brave man to appoint an assistant on a full-time basis only a few weeks into the season.

Brendan Rodgers has kept fairly quiet of late, though he has implied he’ll strengthen Liverpool’s team further in January. Until then, his team will have to win games such as this even with key players injured.

Facts and figures

  • Sunderland have scored only 12 goals in 24 Premier League meetings with Liverpool.
  • Seven of Liverpool’s last nine Premier League goals have been scored from Daniel Sturridge.
  • Sunderland have won only three of their 24 Premier League games against Liverpool but all three victories have come at the Stadium of Light.
  • Sunderland haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last nine Premier League games.
  • The Reds are unbeaten in six Premier League games away from Anfield (W4 D2), last losing on the road in March to Southampton.
  • Liverpool are the only team yet to score in the second half in the Premier League this season.
  • Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet has made more saves than any other goalkeeper this season (25).
  • Former Sunderland glovesman Mignolet has a saves to shots ratio of 89%, the second best rate of regular ‘keepers this season.
  • His replacement at Sunderland Keiren Westwood has a saves to shots rate of 54%, the lowest of any keeper to feature in all five games this season.
  • Eight of Sunderland’s last 10 Premier League home games have seen three goals or fewer scored.
  • Pacy loanee Victor Moses is set to make his 100th Premier League appearance.

FourFourTwo prediction

Liverpool win their first in four, and comfortably. 0-2.

*Anthony Le Tallec and Chris Brown


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