Happy New Year! Hope you're all sufficiently energetic, resolute, and optimistic about what another year holds--I'm hungover, weak, and pessimistic about making it past noon. So there. But seriously, hope everyone was able to enjoy the festive period with family and friends, and that the new year brings whatever you're looking for. Unless it's my demise, in which case I have some mixed feelings.
Thankfully Liverpool present themselves as something we can all have mixed feeling about; terrific against lifeless QPR and an abject Fulham, dismal against Stoke's barbarian horde and Aston Villa, who's since slammed the accelerator to the floor as the cliff draws nearer. Not allowing any one result to determine the attitude towards the club is a nice idea in theory, but with results and performances all over the map, it's absolutely critical if we're going to maintain some semblance of sanity.
Sunderland are a side that have the potential to confound, with three wins in their last five, including City's scalp last Wednesday at the Stadium of Light. Every team in the top flight seems fairly up and down this season, and Martin O'Neill's squad is no different, with a string of disappointing results preceding their recent successes. They're comfortably off the bottom but still six points from Liverpol in tenth, but a win tomorrow could kickstart a month full of fixtures they'll feel hold plenty of points.
John O'Shea, Lee Cattermole, and Wes Brown are all out through injury, but O'Neill will have Danny Rose back after the fullback had to sit against Spurs on Saturday. Matthew Kilgallon's started the last two in Rose's place, and both Simon Mignolet--who's had a wonderful season so far--and Sebastian Larsson have started all twenty Premier League matches. It's been a mostly consistent eleven on the whole for O'Neill, with eleven players starting at least fifteen matches and only O'Shea confirmed as absent among those names.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Downing
Gerrard Suarez Sterling
Jose Enrique's going to be out until at least February, and with Martin Kelly out of action indefinitely, Liverpool's depth at fullback is again cause for concern. That's only for about the thirtieth time in the past three seasons, though, so maybe it hasn't been a problem enough. No news about illness spreading further throughout the team, which hopefully means all are rested and recovered enough to feature.
The quickest fix at the back is to slide Stewart Downing into the left fullback role, and unless Jack Robinson's going to ascend from the reserves straight into the eleven that seems the most likely. Andre Wisdom's been missing from the senior squad for awhile and probably isn't prepared at this point to push Glen Johnson over, so Downing does make some sense. Which doesn't really make sense. Buy another fullback goddammit.
Midfield causes the most questions, as usual, with Lucas and Joe Allen seemingly set for starts again, and Steven Gerrard likely as the third. Jordan Henderson's form has been too solid, though, and I'd hope that he features again with Gerrard moving to the right side of the attacking three. It's not ideal, but with Downing likely to be in defense, the right flank needs filling, and Gerrard's departure from the midfield would leave a spot for Henderson.
If Gerrard does end up on the right--which I don't think is particularly likely, but whatever--he'll join Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in the attacking three. Sterling struggled badly against QPR but isn't going to be pushed out by anyone at this point; Suso could start if Gerrard stays in midfield, and there's always the possibility that Oussama Assaidi is alive. Maybe.
Later kickoff tomorrow, with the start time set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST. Folks in the US can catch the match live on ESPN2/WatchESPN.com, but there's not a current listing for UK viewers. Anything that comes available will be posted in the matchday thread, which will have team sheets around an hour or so before kickoff. As usual, we hope you'll join us in the comments and on Twitter, and we'll all hope that Liverpool start 2013 off on the right note.