Sunderland AFC v Liverpool FC
15th September 2012 – Kick Off 5.30pm
It seems strange that Sunderland are only just hosting their first Premier League home fixture of the 2012/13 campaign in mid-September; but what a game to start with. During their glorious history Liverpool have won eighteen League titles, seven FA Cups and a record eight League Cups. The have also been equally dominant on the continent, winning five European Cups (including one Champions league), three UEFA Cups and three UEFA Super Cups. But how times have changed.
Depending upon your view, Liverpool are either a club in transition or a club in crisis. Their newly appointed manager, Brendan Rodgers, must have an almighty headache with players coming in, players being allegedly sent out against his wishes and trying to implement a new passing philosophy. With only a solitary point gleaned from their three opening games, another reverse would dent Liverpool’s Champions League aspirations and could result in Stevie “Wonder” Gerard running around The Bridges in a shell suit and curly perm shouting “calm down, calm down” in true Harry Enfield style.
And it gets better, with Sunderland enjoying a decent home record against the Reds, winning two of the last three games at the Stadium of Light. If the Black Cats can start brightly and dominate the game from the first whistle we may see an increasingly disjointed, and desperate Liverpool on national TV this weekend, depending upon which formation Martin O’Neill decides to send out; 4-4-2 or 4-5-1.
It’s been a week of contrasting fortunes for Sunderland’s internationals this week. A moment of Twitter-madness almost brought McClean’s Republic of Ireland embryonic career to an abrupt end; Meyler won his first cap, whilst Wickham enjoyed his first goal for the England U21 side. However, I suspect that Sunderland will largely retain the team that achieved creditable results at Swansea and Arsenal.
I expect Fletcher to start as the lone striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Saha to replace him in the 2nd half as they both continue their journey to full match fitness. If Johnson fails to recover from injury, then Colback or Meyler will move into midfield with Rose making his debut at left back. However, Liverpool still represents a significant challenge and we may do well to keep a red balloon on the substitutes bench – well it worked in 2009.
It will be interesting to see if Rodgers stays loyal to his 4-3-3 formation given he is still awaiting his first league success. Downing will be desperate to play against a club where he made 7 appearances in 2003 on loan, but not as eager as Henderson who made 77 before his sale last year. Since we are talking about the number-7, Suarez will present their most serious goal threat, simply because they don’t have any other recognised strikers, not unless Kenny Dalglish is still registered as a player. Sterling may have been called up to the senior England squad, but he is only aged 17 and very raw. One player who will get a ‘warm’ reception is Enrique, given his 119 Newcastle appearances and their new £15 million signing, Joe Allen, who has impressed and presents a real threat.
Sunderland’s last league win came on 24 March (11 games ago) and I suspect that sorry run won’t end this weekend as I predict a draw.