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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Sunderland, 09.25.10

Rolling the dice yet again in hopes that tomorrow's the turning point.

And by all indications it probably shouldn't be.

There's little to feed off from top to bottom---Roy Hodgson waving at the squad he selected as they tumble down the staircase on the way to ground level, rallying cries to not write the squad off yet (it being October and all), and, most damning of all, multiple players apologizing on the Twitter. Truly troubling stuff.

But following Liverpool has shown me that reality need not have any bearing on my expectations, so I look forward to tomorrow like any other match. Although it would be nice to talk about an upcoming matchday without including some form of "if Liverpool don't win they're really in the sh*tter, this time I mean it."

It's perversely fitting that tomorrow's opponent is Sunderland---proprietors of the most infamously ridiculous result in a season full of them in 2009-2010. Darren Bent's beach ball-kissed strike gave Sunderland all three points at the Stadium of Light last season, and while Liverpool dominated this fixture last season, it was the early-season farce that seemed to define the campaign. Don't get me wrong, Sunderland fully deserved all three points on the day. But the beach ball narrative stuck, and it ultimately became symbolic of a year in which nothing went right.

This season's Sunderland is a bit different in terms of personnel, and I'd guess we can expect to see a much firmer test for Liverpool than last season's at Anfield. Darren Bent's still the danger man, with three of the club's four goals in league, and he's now supported in attack by glamour signing Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian striker who arrived from Rennes on the last day of the transfer window. The new boy has made two substitute appearances since joining the club and netted the equalizer against Wigan in his first appearance. Reports have him as a doubt for tomorrow after he picked up a knock in the loss against West Ham, and there's a chance we could see Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck.

The rest of Steve Bruce's side is fairly familiar---Simon Mignolet has started all five matches in goal and performed well, but they'll be missing both Kieran Richardson and Anton Ferdinand in defense, as the pair also picked up injuries midweek. That makes a depleted back line even thinner, as they were already missing John Mensah and Michael Turner. But despite the off-the-pitch troubles for Titus Bramble, we can apparently expect to see him in the starting eleven with Nedum Onuoha.

Lee Cattermole is back from a two-match ban he picked up with his second red card in three matches, and I'm guessing the midfield will pace the Black Cats. Steed Malbranque is a regular, and with Cattermole's return the midfield is rounded out by some combination of Jordan Henderson, Christian Riveros, Ahmed Al Muhammadi, and former Liverpool man Bolo Zenden.

As for Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Gerrard Poulsen
Kuyt Meireles Cole

---After what we saw midweek, I don't know that there's any other eleven that could feature. Or that they've recovered from the injuries inflicted as the bus drove over them.

---We need to see much, much better play from the back line. I'm still impulsively typing "Agger" as part of my guess and then going back to delete it; I'm not convinced that Martin Skrtel or Jamie Carragher is any better than Agger right now, but I'm also not convinced that Hodgson brings him back after putting in a full shift midweek, especially considering he doesn't seem to be first-choice anymore.

---The choice for Kuyt is largely based on rumors of his return combined with a burning desire to not see Maxi anywhere near the pitch. The Argentine has been dismal and anonymous for nearly all of his appearances this season, and there's no way a one-armed Dirk Kuyt isn't a better choice.

---I'm guessing that Christian Poulsen still gets every chance to impress regardless of evidence to the contrary, and he'll work alongside either Steven Gerrard or Raul Meireles. I think those two have to be the focus moving forward, regardless of who plays further up the pitch. If they can force the issue and stretch Sunderland through the middle and at the back, it frees up Fernando Torres and creates space for Joe Cole and Kuyt to move inwards. Dreams, etc.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

There's not much point in writing anything original in this section anymore---it's going to be the same song on repeat until Liverpool show that they can take the match to an opponent. Meaningful possession, forcing the issue, and signaling some sort of intent has been the biggest problem with the squad this year. Whether it's Hodgson's tactics (ding!), squad selection, or players off-form, Liverpool haven't been convincing for more than 30 minutes at a time. Simply put, much more is needed.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

With a late winner, Liverpool 2-1. But as we learned with my prediction midweek, there's no rhyme or reason involved. Just hope that is destined to turn to heartbreak.

Back to full media coverage tomorrow---not sure yet how it's being broadcast in the UK, but it's on Fox Soccer Plus stateside. As usual, matchday post will be up about an hour before kickoff.

And lastly, a plug for an interview that I did with Salut! Sunderland earlier this week. Not much there you wouldn't find here, but Colin was kind enough to ask my thoughts on any number of topics related to the club. And also kind enough to remind me that I have no idea what it's like to be at a Liverpool match.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

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