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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Sunderland, 03.20.11

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Liverpool travel to the Northeast to face Sunderland.

I still haven't been able to see anything more than a few assorted "highlights" from Thursday's draw with Braga, so while I was indeed appropriately depressed with the aggregate result, I'm not completely downtrodden and hopeless. Maybe it's just the fact that I missed the collective flatlining in action, but it doesn't seem like there needs to be a complete recovery effort. Yes, we'd hoped for better from Liverpool, and moving on in the Europa League would have been a sign of success in a season that hasn't had much.

But it wasn't to be, and the trip to Sunderland gets Liverpool back to the home stretch in the league season---nine matches left domestically to hoard as many points as possible and see where they end up, which, ideally, will be above sixth. We know that might be a stretch, but after the draw between Spurs and the resurgent West Ham earlier in the day, not completely out of the question.

Sunderland aren't far off the pace, only four points back of Liverpool despite having an absolutely horrendous February. They dropped all 12 points during the month, losing four straight to Chelsea, Stoke, Spurs and Everton. Their draw with Arsenal earlier in March saw them earn their first point since a win on January 22nd at Blackpool, and they'll hope it's a step in right direction.

Liverpool struggled to earn a point in the reverse fixture at Anfield after two Darren Bent goals, so the good news is that Darren Bent now plays for Villa. Steve Bruce still has plenty of skill up front, though, with Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan available, and midfielder Lee Cattermole scheduled to return. Nedum Onuoha and Bolo Zenden are also back, along with midfield regulars Steed Malbranque, Sully Muntari, Kieran Richardson, and Jordan Henderson, with Titus Bramble, Anton Ferdinand, and Onuuha among the likely names in defense ahead of Simon Mignolet in goal.

Also, there's bound to be around 3,000 references to this tomorrow. Brace yourselves.

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?

Reina
Carragher Skrtel Agger Johnson
Lucas Spearing
Meireles Maxi
Kuyt Suarez

---Liverpool will still be without the services of Steven Gerrard, Fabio Aurelio, and Martin Kelly, and Jonjo Shelvey looks to still be a ways away from match fitness.

---This is basically the same personnel that I picked against Braga minus Andy Carroll and plus Luis Suarez. The former is coming off four months without having played a match, so turning in 90 on Thursday probably means that he's going to have limited minutes tomorrow. I think we'll see him for sure at some point, but it might be asking too much to give him another start.

---The composition at the back is again contingent on Daniel Agger's fitness, but I think we can agree that Danny Wilson likely won't feature. By all accounts he had a rough go of it on Thursday, and with Agger nearly fit, it allows for Jamie Carragher to slide right and Glen Johnson to move to the left. Not natural positions for either, but probably the strongest back line Liverpool can muster at this point.

---There's a couple of questions in midfield; namely, Lucas' wife gave birth to their son, Pedro Lucas, earlier today. So congratulations and all that stuff, and let's hope there's plenty of family in town to help them out so he can feature tomorrow. If he doesn't, that makes for a strange and scary possibility deeper in midfield, one that may or may not involve an alice band. The rest seems to pick itself at this point.

---Some sort of Kuyt/Suarez partnership has to be on the cards. The two have linked tremendously since Suarez' arrival, and against United they were again effective with Suarez in a slightly deeper free role. Adding Carroll to the mix will benefit them somehow, but I don't think we know how yet, and I don't think that question will need answering tomorrow.

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

Forward progress. As I mentioned above, the disappointment in Europe were more or less on the cards for awhile---Liverpool hadn't really overwhelmed an opponent in the Europa League since Rabotnicki despite a few flattering scorelines, and their last four matches had been anything but encouraging.

They've managed to create something slightly different domestically, though, even if the two results (1-1 with Wigan, 1-3 to West Ham) after the 1-0 win over Chelsea didn't show it. The win over United was the most recent indicator that things were looking up, but once again Liverpool will have to show they can get results against anyone and everyone, not just in matches that require them to be on top of their game.

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

The return of Luis Suarez should inject life into the Liverpool attack, and hopefully it'll be enough to tip the scale in Liverpool's favor. 2-1 to the Reds.

If you're in front of TV tomorrow, you can catch the match live on Sky Sports 1 in England and Fox Soccer Plus in the US. Considering Fox Soccer Plus' resolution is the equivalent of watching a stream (and in some cases much worse), you could also check in the matchday thread prior to kickoff for links to streams. Any news, etc. will, as usual, also be included.

Have a nice rest of your Saturday, and in the meantime, try to not to be too jealous of Stephen Stills' poncho: