Cue mindless conversation about a beach ball showing up at Anfield.
Results of the day went as expected(ish) in the fourth place discussion---the "ish" part comes from the way in which Chelsea beat Aston Villa. 7-1 was not necessarily predicted by most, and it was a clear statement of intent from the Blues. It's good news for Liverpool that Villa continue to fade, but by no means does that settle their involvement. For right now, though, a -6 on goal differential is helpful. And Portsmouth put up a decent fight at White Hart Lane but were unable to break through and fell to Spurs by a 2-0 margin. The updated table looks like this:
As for tomorrow, there's a sort of unexpected animosity associated with the match---most of it comes from the watermelon-headed Steve Bruce, who is not fond of Rafa Benitez and has no qualms about sharing his dislike. Most recently it's due to the pursuit of Kenwyne Jones, but in general there seems to be a tension that comes along with a Bruce-Benitez match-up. It could be a related to the fact that Rafa has won only one match in his last nine against Bruce regardless of the club he's managing, or it could be a product of the fact that neither man seems particularly amiable. Regardless, there's bound to be some energy in the fixture tomorrow---maybe not Moyes-Mancini energy on the touchline, but still something worth watching.
Sunderland are by no means a bogey team for Liverpool, but they do present plenty of problems. The win at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland's first against Liverpool since 2002, was as much a result of a beach ball as it was Sunderland getting the better of the Reds. A point apiece might have been fairer considering the inflatable objects involved, but Liverpool were certainly not deserving of all three points. Maybe it's just the fact that we have the same hat size (8-7/8), but I find myself agreeing with Steve Bruce that it wasn't entirely down to luck.
As it turns out, the Kenwyne Jones non-transfer is a good thing---he hasn't done much to warrant any continuing interest and is currently struggling with fitness, but his partner up top certainly has. Darren Bent is having the season of his career, scoring 20 goals in Premier League competition (including one off a beach ball) and creating massive problems for opposing defenses. And Bent's most recent strike partner, Fraizer Campbell, certainly thinks Sunderland can make the trip to Anfield plenty difficult for Liverpool.
Obviously it's not going to be a walkthrough for Liverpool, and with only seven matches left in the Premier League, there's got to be a sense of urgency. So again, I call for senseless, ignorant attacking:
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Maxi/Kuyt Torres Babel
The imminent departure of Riera makes the wide question a little easier to answer, but it's never going to be very clear. There's plenty of options, but the one that makes the most sense in attack is to push three forwards up top, let Gerrard and Aquilani share the load in linking possession and attack, and allow for some space for the fullbacks. I still think Insua needs some time away from the starting eleven, but with Aurelio still injured and no chance for Agger moving, it's what they've got. And Lucas has been serviceable lately, but with all the press about Aquilani's future combined with his good form prior to illness, I can't see any way through for the Brazilian.
At this point the closing paragraph can write itself---Liverpool need the win to stay in the running for the last Champions League spot, they can't afford stupid mistakes, they're playing a side that's capable of making a mess of things, etc. etc. There needs to be a cold, workman-like attitude to the rest of the season, and after the loss at Old Trafford Liverpool can't afford to do anything but win.