After an emotional week off the pitch, Liverpool return to the football against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Neither squad have a league win in the early season, with Liverpool dropping eight of a possible nine points and tomorrow's hosts drawing twice away from home and having postponed their only scheduled home match due to heavy rain. If recent history's any indication, someone will come away with all three points, as they two clubs haven't split points on Wearside since 2001.
It's a little jarring to go from the week's events around Hillsborough straight to the football, particularly when the ripples from Wednesday's report are still so significant. There's going to be an impact felt for some time, particularly with new inquests and legal action likely to be pursued against the parties shown responsible for a cover-up and shifting of blame on a scale that few could have imagined. Wednesday was a victory of sorts, but as many have already pointed out, it's the beginning of yet another process that will hopefully see further justice for the victims and their families.
So the shift back to the action on the pitch will feel abrupt, but at least it comes on the front end of a busy stretch that'll see Liverpool play five of their six September matches in a span of fourteen days. The timing of the international break was both good and bad; two losses from three and poor form for Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina meant a respite from club play was welcomed, but there's a need for Liverpool to get into some sort of groove if the results are going to come.
Liverpool's lone piece of evidence for away form in league wasn't encouraging--the opening forty-five minutes at the Hawthorns on opening day wasn't awful, but that gave way to a second half performance that Brendan Rodgers and company will be loathe to duplicate.
Their hosts won't have much more to go off of, with the aforementioned postponement and a 2-0 win over League Two side Morecambe in the League Cup their only home dates. They've earned two draws away from the Stadium of Light, though, first holding Arsenal in a goalless encounter at the Emirates and next in Wales, where they got two first-half goals from Steven Fletcher before conceding a second equalizer to Michu in a 2-2 draws with Swansea.
Fletcher arrived the same day as former Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, who might miss tomorrow with a thigh injury, Louis Saha added to their depth in attack earlier in the summer, and Martin O'Neill was able to add Spurs fullback/winger Danny Rose on loan on the window's final day as well. Against Swansea both Johnson and Fletcher started, with Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean rounding out the attacking contingent, and mainstays Sebastian Larsson and Lee Cattermole in the midfield. Former Villa defender Carlos Cuellar has started both league matches in defense with John O'Shea, and Simon Mignolet will be expected in goal.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Borini Suarez Sterling
Martin Kelly's substitution after the first half of the U21 Euro qualifier against Norway was cause for concern, but he's back in training, leaving Liverpool with no longer-term casualties from the international break. Lucas is still out, but he's the only confirmed absence ahead of tomorrow's match.
That means that the lineup essentially picks itself, with business as usual at the back--Glen Johnson on the right, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in the middle, and Jose Enrique, who is one of the few regulars in the first team to not be selected for international duty, at left back so long as his knee has fully recovered. If it hasn't and Kelly isn't fit, we'll either get Jack Robinson or Stewart Downing, who'd be making only his second appearance in the role in a long time.
The same more or less goes for the midfield, even if many of us would like to see Steven Gerrard given a spell in favor of Jonjo Shelvey or Jordan Henderson. His form through the first three has been abysmal, and what's worse is that he hasn't given any indication that he's bothered. He'll likely start, though, and once again we'll see Joe Allen in a makeshift defensive role deeper in the midfield. Nuri Şahin was unspectactular against Arsenal but was calm and patient in possession; again, a start wouldn't be surprising, but neither would a spot on the bench with either of Shelvey or Henderson (likely Shelvey) included in the midfield three.
No telling if Oussama Assaidi is match-fit, but hopefully he makes the trip and is at least in the squad. Rodgers is likely to pick the same three he's gone with in the past two league matches, with Luis Suarez central and Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling on either flank. There's rumors that Suso and Samed Yesil are making the trip tomorrow, but their inclusion in the squad is both unconfirmed and unlikely.
September doesn't contain many must-win matches, and while there's added pressure to start picking up points after the results through the first three, tomorrow isn't likely going to determine Liverpool's season. On the heels of such an important week for the club and its supporters, however, a victory would carry plenty of sentimental weight, and with such an important stretch on the immediate horizon, it feels an awful lot like three points is the only acceptable outcome.
Tomorrow's kickoff is a bit later than the past few weeks, with the opening whistle set for 5:30PM BST/12:30PM EST. Viewers stateside and in the UK shouldn't have any problems catching the match live, as Fox Soccer Channel and ESPNUK will be carrying coverage respectively. We'll have those listed in the matchday thread along with any other options available, and will plan to include the team sheets around an hour or so before kickoff. Feel free to catch up with us here or over on Twitter, where at least our incessant bitching can be limited to 140 characters.
Hope you all have a nice end to the week, and that we'll see you around for the match.