The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Sunderland
Nothing more dramatic than eighth against 14th on matchday 15.
- Leicester 1-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Ludogorets 1-1 Liverpool (CL)
- Palace 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- S’land 1-4 Man City (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Leicester 0-0 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Palace 1-3 S’land (Prem)
So now it seems those rumours of Liverpool’s demise were a tad premature. That sorry run of a single point from 12 saw last season’s runners-up drop to 12th, sitting far closer to the bottom (6 points) than the top (18 points).
Twelve games into this season, they’d amassed just 14 points, their lowest total 12 games in since the dark days of 1992/93 – the days of Graeme Souness, Nick Tanner, Istvan Kozma and Ronnie Rosenthal.
In their defeats against Palace, Chelsea and Newcastle in November, they’d mustered just eight shots on target. Since the start of the season they’ve scored and conceded the same total (19), which is both fewer and more than any team with Champions League aspirations could ever accept. Inevitably, all eyes turned on the Messiah. “I'm favourite to get the sack,” chomped Brendan Rodgers, as the panic took hold.
But then, very suddenly, the clouds lifted and the sun came out again. Two consecutive wins, at home to Stoke and away at Leicester arrived in the space of three days to put an altogether glossier sheen on Liverpool’s predicament.
Another win, at home to Sunderland on Saturday, would be the first time Liverpool have recorded three on the bounce since last April, back when everything was rosy.
Another win against the Black Cats and suddenly the Champions League places would be within touching distance again, and the season wouldn’t seem anything like the sobering no-show it’s been so far.
But no-one who witnessed either of Liverpool’s last two wins will be allowing themselves to get carried away: neither could be called commanding and either could have easily been a point rather than three. But a win is a win is a win, and Win, Win, Win is how it could read come 4.45pm.
The wise money is on it ending in a draw, mind you. Despite the 8-0 defeat at Southampton and the 4-1 defeat at home to Manchester City this week, Sunderland have become harder to beat. Eight draws in their 14 games and just 14 goals in their ‘F’ column illustrates the big issue for Gus Poyet.
Capable of stifling the league’s finest team on their day – the 0-0 draw with Chelsea was more than deserved – Sunderland’s success thus far has been built on a willingness to run themselves into a wheezing heap.
Indeed, Poyet believes his team are at their best when inviting supposedly superior teams such as Chelsea to attack them. “We adapt better to those games,” he confirmed. “It is about shape, defending, caring, discipline. Not too many teams enjoy defending like that, but against top teams you need to do that.”
That approach clearly didn’t work against a resurgent City, but a point from games against the top two is more than most would have expected, and a point Sunderland would have happily accepted beforehand. If one point from six becomes one from nine, however, it won’t look quite so clever. Because, as Liverpool know, perceptions can change in the blink of eye.
Of the players on Liverpool’s lengthy injury list, Mamadou Sakho, Suso and Mario Balotelli are the three men approaching returns, though the latter’s reappearance may be complicated by a social media misdemeanour.
And a curious subplot involves Raheem Sterling, who tweeted “My ankle is in bits” after the win at Leicester, suggesting he may not be fit. He quickly deleted the tweet so did it even happen? Did what happen? Erm.
The key point here is that delicate saviour Daniel Sturridge is still a good four weeks from fitness, which is good news for Rickie Lambert and Sunderland but less good for Liverpool.
For Sunderland, who have a far slimmer crocked list, Billy Jones and Emanuele Giaccherini are both edging closer to a return to first team action.
Player to watch: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Some will argue this should be Steven Gerrard, particularly Steven Gerrard himself. Others will suggest Simon Mignolet’s ability to lose games on his own right now could single him out. But we’re suggesting that what Liverpool need at this moment in time, besides Luis Suarez, is the quiet efficiency of the little Brazilian.
From cast-off in the summer to to key man right now, of the 10 games Leiva has appeared in this season, Liverpool have won seven and lost just twice, and one of those was against Real Madrid. In the 11 games he hasn’t featured in, they’ve won just twice and lost seven.
At Leicester, Leiva recovered the ball more than any player on the pitch (13 times), completed more tackles than any other player (8/8) and registered a joint-high 4 interceptions. At a time when Rodgers needs his team to get back to basics, Leiva’s role should not be underestimated. His battle with Lee Cattermole will be key.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L’pool 2-1 S’land (PL, Mar 14)
- S’land 1-3 L’pool (PL, Sep 13)
- L’pool 3-0 S’land (PL, Jan 13)
- S’land 1-1 L’pool (PL, Sep 12)
- S’land 1-0 L’pool (PL, Mar 12)
When Rodgers was quoted saying: "A few months ago I was the manager of the year, now I'm favourite to get the sack," as recently as last week, he was clearly exaggerating. He was third-favourite, not favourite. Two wins later and he’s bought himself some breathing space. In truth, Rodgers has been too busy mollycoddling Stevie G, checking the small print on Mad Mario’s contract and inventing odd analogies to worry about his own position.“No matter who you are, the time comes when the wheels are out and ready to land,” he said. “Steven’s wheels aren’t out yet.” And neither are Brendan’s.
And neither, for that matter, are Poyet’s. The draw with Chelsea imbued Gus with confidence ahead of the games against City and Liverpool. “Now the players will go into these games with a mentality of thinking they can win, that we can beat Man City, we can beat Liverpool,” he said. They didn’t beat Man City of course (“It was tough and they were better than us,” he shrugged), but they’ll still go to Anfield thinking they can win.
Facts and figures
- Each of Liverpool’s last 5 Premier League goals have been scored by 5 different Englishmen.
- Gerrard has scored 1 goal and assisted 3 in his last 3 league games against Sunderland.
- Liverpool’s players have made 20 errors leading directly to a goal or attempt this season, more than any other side.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland.