This is a big week for Liverpool by any standard, with a make-or-break Champions League match against Basel at Anfield and a trip to Old Trafford next weekend for the first "big" Premier League match since Liverpool fell apart in late August. They're all important, of course, but those two matches carry an added weight about them, and there can be little denying that most will have their sights set on the two fixtures that could well determine the club's fate heading into the new year.
Looking ahead runs the risk of slipping up against a Sunderland side that will be more than happy to serve as spoiler, however, and Gus Poyet will no doubt have his team ready for a fixture that proved to be far more difficult than expected last season. They've managed to cause some problems this season as well, with draws against Everton, Spurs, Chelsea, and United offsetting a handful of poor results, including the 8-0 away loss at Southampton in mid-October.
Poyet won't have Sebastian Coates available after the Liverpool loanee made his first Premier League start of the season, and Adam Johnson will be a late decision after suffering a thigh injury. Emanuele Giaccherini, Patrick van Aanholt, and Billy Jones are all ruled out. Last time out against City--a match in which Poyet's side took the lead but slipped to a 4-1 loss--Sunderland lined up with Costel Pantilimon in goal, Santiago Vergini, John O'Shea, Coates, and Anthony Reveillere in defense, Lee Cattermole, with Jack Rodwell, Will Buckley, and Seb Larsson in the midfield and Conor Wickham and Darren Fletcher up top. Coates will likely be replaced by Wes Brown, while Vito Mannone, Liam Bridcutt, Jozy Altidore, and Jordi Gomez could feature as well.
Johnson Toure Lovren Moreno
Allen Can Coutinho
Markovic Borini Lallana
Liverpool are edging closer to full fitness, with Mamadou Sakho returning to full training and Jon Flanagan's long-awaited return now apparently a matter of weeks. Jose Enrique and Philippe Coutinho will be available after missing out against Leicester City (the former was left out completely while the latter was on the bench but did not feature). Suso, Mario Balotelli, and Daniel Sturridge will all miss out.
The return of Sakho would ideally come in the form of a start, and after Martin Skrtel's late scare at Leicester, it would be nice to see the Slovakian rested. Liverpool haven't made any comment about whether or not he suffered a concussion, but it seemed clear he was not right after getting struck in the side of the head with a shot. Kolo Toure could and should continue in some capacity, and if Skrtel does drop out Dejan Lovren seems more likely than Sakho. Javier Manquillo came off at the half midweek, which could mean a move back to the right for Glen Johnson and a start on the left for Alberto Moreno.
Questions abound in the midfield again despite having a preferred setup at this point; Liverpool are at their best with Lucas deep and Steven Gerrard either more advanced or coming off the bench, but the Brazilian has started in three straight matches and the captain played a full 90 minutes at the King Power Stadium. With Basel looming on Tuesday it might not be a bad time to rest both, and Emre Can should be capable of filling in, especially if joined by Joe Allen, who only featured over the final half-hour against Leicester. Coutinho could round out a midfield three to add a bit of creativity.
Up top there should be a rest for Rickie Lambert despite the fact that only Fabio Borini remains fit, while Adam Lallana will hopefully keep his spot from an encouraging display on Tuesday. It would be nice to see Lazar Markovic get minutes given that it's unlikely he'll feature from the start against Basel or Manchester United next weekend, but another start for Raheem Sterling could yet be on the cards.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST on Saturday, with NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us, and if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.