The jam packed Winter schedule is finally coming to a close. With the past week filled with more excitement than any of us can shake a cracker at, we look forward to Liverpool’s trip to the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, the first match of the new year. After two convincing wins at home, Liverpool still sit second and six points behind Chelsea, and dropping points away from home against a team that narrowly avoided relegation last season would not be an auspicious start to the new year.
By all appearances this should be an easy match for Liverpool to control, riding high on the confidence of defeating Manchester City less than two days earlier. History shows a match against an underestimated side can be Liverpool’s undoing, though, despite that much of this season’s progress having come from beating the sides that we should. Mostly, at least.
Lest we need reminding, Liverpool’s two major losses this season have come against recently promoted sides that have proved the thorn in our lion’s paw. And while Sunderland are facing their own crises of late with bedding in a new manager and their own slew of injuries, their top scorer Jermaine Defoe is not to be ignored or underestimated. Thankfully, Liverpool themselves only face the challenge of who to start. Two matches in less than 48 hours is nothing to sniff at and the big question could be what risks Klopp will take with his XI.
Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner
Can, Lucas, Wijnaldum
Mané, Firmino, Lallana
Unfortunately, captain (and former Wearside lad, if narrative is your thing) Jordan Henderson picked up some kind heel injury yesterday against City and is likely to miss out. Joël Matip and Philippe Coutinho continue to be sidelined, but with the Brazilian having been in training the past week or so, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him possibly make the bench. Ragnar Klavan was absolutely steadfast yesterday, rendering Sergio Agüero virtually invisible, and will be looking to do the same tomorrow. Origi came on for Henderson in the 64th minute against City yesterday, moving Adam Lallana to a deeper role to cover, but it wouldn’t be unlikely to see Lucas return to the role he feels most comfortable in - especially after he made a five minute appearance yesterday.
More than the starters, one might expect to see them get the ball rolling and then possibly putting a couple of the kids into the action. It wouldn’t be unlikely to see Ovie Ejaria, possibly, or even young Ben Woodburn get a run out, while Daniel Sturridge has also proven to be most effective lately as a substitute. While our defense is strong, at the moment, the depth of attack gives the boss plenty to play with should some legs start to go tomorrow.
David Moyes, on the other hand, will be seeing things a little differently for his Black Cats. While Jermaine Defoe has been a reliable goalscorer for Sunderland with 9 goals this season and is expected to lead the line tomorrow, the list of injuries for the rest of the club continues to grow. Lamine Kone and Victor Anchiebe both picked up injuries in the Cats’ defeat to Burnley last week, joining the likes of Jordan Pickford, Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch, and Duncan Watmore. Former Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers man Fabio Borini is expected to start alongside Manchester United youngster on loan Adnan Januzsaj and Steven Pienaar.
Moyes himself claimed the defense against Burnley was “shambolic” and will be looking to make right the loss the Cats’ suffered, especially at their home base. Stopping Liverpool’s attacking force will be priority number one. Sitting 18th in the table and once again looking relegation in the face, expect Sunderland to do whatever they can to put a dent into Liverpool’s title chase. Jason Denayer could possibly return after missing the trip to Turf Moor, joining the assumed back four Moyes has been playing with most season.
The first match of 2017 could prove to be an epic run out the likes we’ve seen previously against Watford and Stoke, or a disappointing mess that we’ve also seen against Bournemouth and Burnley. Confidence versus physical limitations will ultimately be the battle Liverpool are facing and it’s always worth a watch.
Kickoff is set for 3.00PM GMT/10.00AM EST tomorrow with no coverage in the UK but on NBCSN in the US. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, Sportsnet World in Canada, Star Sports Select HD1 in India, and SuperSport 3 Africa in Kenya are carrying the match. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.