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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Sunderland, 08.13.11

kuyt sunderland

For the second year in a row, Liverpool start the Premier League season at home, looking to get the first full season of Kenny Dalglish's renewed reign off on the right foot. We say it every year, regardless of the action during the summer---this is what we've all been waiting for. The transfer deadline keeps a bit of nonsense around until the end of August, but we're ever closer to having a singular focus on the Premier League season, and that's about as good as it gets.

Thankfully much of the overt unrest across England has died down; the Spurs v. Everton game was the only fixture list casualty of the week's turmoil, meaning that the remaining nine matches of the opening weekend will go on as planned. You'd guess that, so long as it's possible, extra attention will be paid at each venue to ensure things go off without a hitch. Going forward with the football is exciting, but going forward without paying attention to the very real concerns throughout the country would be foolish.

But by all accounts everything's set up for a festive day tomorrow, with just the second season opener at Anfield in what seems like forever and a host of new boys hoping to make their full Liverpool debut. Sunderland arrive having done quite a bit of renovating of their own; out went Steed Malbranque, George McCartney, Liam Noble, and Jordan Henderson, and in came James Vaughan from Blackpool, John O'Shea and Wes Brown from Marnchester United, Keiren Westwood, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner from Birmingham, Dong-Won Ji, supposed Liverpool target Connor Wickham, and James McClean. Caught your breath?

Nearly all the new arrivals could have a part to play tomorrow save for John O'Shea---the former United man picked up a hamstring injury during preseason, meaning he joins Craig Gordon, Frazier Campbell, and David Meyler on the injury list. The mostly likely are Wes Brown at the back and Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner through the midfield, with the former joining Anton Ferdinand, Michael Turner, or Titus Bramble, and the latter pair linking up with Lee Cattermole in the midfield. Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan will carry the load up front, potentially supported by Ahmed Elmohamady wide and Stephane Sessengon in an advanced role.

For an expanded look at Sunderland, visit Noel's earlier Tea & Crumpets with Simon Walsh from the Roker Report.


Keeping with tradition (sort of), a more specific look at Liverpool:

Who starts for Liverpool?

Kelly Carragher Agger Aurelio
Lucas Adam
Kuyt Suarez Downing

---Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, and Glen Johnson will start the season on the injury list, and Jose Enrique isn't likely to make the team sheet after only having his medical yesterday. Raul Meireles featured in Portugal's win over Luxembourg on Wednesday and should be available, but no reports as to his ongoing fitness.

---Pepe Reina's recovery from double hernia surgery seems to have gone as planned, featuring in each of the last two preseason matches. He'll resume his duties in goal behind a likely back line of Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, and Fabio Aurelio, which looked fantastic in the 2-0 win over Valencia last Saturday. Jose Enrique has thrown himself into the mix, but I can't see a scenario that has him in the starting eleven. A full week's training could see him in contention at the Emirates next weekend, though.

---The point of contention most discussed during the preseason was Liverpool's midfield; the arrivals of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson made endless "1-10-0" jokes the summer accessory. For tomorrow, at least, the picture isn't as cloudy; Gerrard's out, Meireles is likely still working his way back to full fitness, and Adam's seen plenty of minutes over the last few weeks. He looked far more comfortable alongside Lucas as opposed to Jay Spearing last week, making him the easy choice to partner the Brazilian deeper in central midfield.

---Further forward there isn't as much certainty, with Kenny Dalglish announcing that Luis Suarez is among the names being tossed around for the starting eleven. If the Uruguayan starts, that could cause all sorts of questions about the best front four; he could play just off Andy Carroll with Dirk Kuyt and Stewart Downing wide, or as part of a front line with those two wide and Carroll relegated to the bench. I'm guessing both he and Carroll get the nod, with Kuyt and Downing wide in a 4-2-3-1.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

Starting strong has been a tricky task for Liverpool in the past few seasons---save for the 2008-2009 campaign in which they were top of the table heading into the turn of the year, there's been mostly stumbles and stutters out of the gate. Beginning the campaign at Anfield should be a buoy, though, as the club was mostly successful across managers during the last campaign. Liverpool haven't made many tasks easy over the past few seasons, but if they can use Anfield to their advantage in a similar vein as last season, a season-opening win could go a long ways.

If you've been around during the past few seasons, you'll notice the "predictions" section is gone, which is a function of the fact that I am particularly awful at guessing a result with any sort of accuracy. Also, when I stopped last season, Liverpool started winning, so how's that for a mind fuck? You can leave your own in the comments, but if they lose, the blame is yours.

Easy one to catch live on television tomorrow, assuming you're in the US (and probably other places too)---Fox Soccer Channel will carry live coverage stateside, but as with many of last season's matches, no listing yet for the UK. Let us know if you're aware of stations televising the match anywhere else, and we'll be sure to include them in the matchday thread that will go up early tomorrow or late tonight. Also worth keeping in mind that, regardless of where you are, the hour before kickoff tomorrow is a time best spent drinking. It's never too late or too early to celebrate the season opener.

Enjoy your Friday, and hopefully see you back here ahead of a kickoff tomorrow.

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