Good Lord it feels like ages since we've had a match, especially at home. Nevertheless here we are everyone, it's on for this weekend, Sunderland against Liverpool, Gyan against Suarez & beach balls at the ready.
We've not had the best of luck against Liverpool really, beach balls aside. Aside from the 2-2 draw earlier this season, the recent results have been littered with "...Sunderland nil"
However, thats the past, this is now, and both teams are very changed propositions since those times. In fact, both teams are radically different to those which met at Anfield earlier this season. Liverpool cashed in on Fernando Torres, whilst we cashed in on Darren Bent, both of whom got goals that day.
With that in mind, we better get to the team news...Simon Mignolet is set to continue in goal for us, what with his excellent form shown at Arsenal, and the fact he's one of the few fully fit keepers in the squad. One would imagine Craig Gordon will sit on the bench despite being injured. A huge risk as far as I'm concerned, as he's injured. What if he's required early in the game? We will then be playing with Craig Cordon at 50% and no doubt doing further damage. I'd rather we recalled Trevor Carson or even stuck a young kid on there. Anyway, it's your call Steve, and it is just an "if."
We have options in defence once again as Nedum Onuoha returns from injury. I'm expecting Nedum Onuoha to join the action right away and take his familiar position at right-back. Phil Bardsley will continue on the left where he has been so dominant this season, but a puzzler comes in the middle of the defence, where Steve Bruce must pick two from three. Titus Bramble - the stand-in captain almost a shoe-in for the position, so that's one taken care of. Then a straight shootout between Anton Ferdinand & John Mensah. Barring any injury to 'The Rock' I can see him starting ahead of Anton and hopefully scoring some sweet revenge on Luis Suarez.
Someone who has promised not to be out for revenge would be Sulley Muntari, who following his best game in a Sunderland shirt at Arsenal the other week, will be guaranteed the start, alongside a well rested Jordan Henderson.
The rest of the midfield is really anyone's guess, as Bruce may opt to go for 4-4-2 now Danny Welbeck appears to be back from injury. That said, Welbeck can also play wide in a midfield 5, such is the youngster's versatility.
There's also the dilemma of whether or not to bring back Lee Cattermole. Bruce said of Cattermole a few days back that he was being careful with the captain, however counteracted that a day or two ago by saying that Catts is "there or thereabouts" for Liverpool. I'm as confused as you, so I'm going to say the bench is more likely. Bruce knows what a crucial player he is, and aggrivating his injury further would be a huge loss as we enter the home straight.
Some we can say for sure will be starting are the impressive Stephane Sessegnon and Kieran Richardson, who will be on hand to support which ever combination of forwards we choose. Whilst Steed Malbranque also has a great chance of featuring.
Richardson will of course be playing off Asamoah Gyan in attack, unless Welbeck returns when we can expect him to return to the left of midfield.
We might even see Fraizer Campbell on the bench, but I can't imagine he's fit enough for anything more than 15 minutes or so after being out injured for so long.
Bruce's Probable Team: Mignolet - Onuoha, Mensah, Bramble, Bardsley - Sessegnon, Henderson, Muntari, Richardson - Welbeck, Gyan
My Team: Mignolet - Onuoha, Mensah, Bramble, Bardsley - Sessegnon, Malbranque, Henderson, Muntari - Richardson - Gyan
From the Liverpool side, a big boost for us is the fact Steve Gerrard misses the game with a groin injury. Liverpool will also be without Fabio Aurelio (Hamstring) and Daniel Agger (Thigh), whilst promising youngsters Martin Kelly (Hamstring) and Jonjo Shelvey (Knee) also miss out.
That's not to say Liverpool will lack quality, or be down to the bare bones. They splashed out over £50m on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, both of whom should be well up for this one, not to mention Dirk Kuyt will be in the mix somewhere.
'Pool have been resurgent under the management of Kenny Dalglish, and are a much tougher prospect than that which we faced at Anfield in September.
I think the key battles on the day will be whether we can first of all, keep control of Raul Meireles in midfield. The Portugal star has been in fine form, and with Gerrard absent, most the play will come through him.
In the final third of the pitch, whoever we start be it Gyan and/or Welbeck, I think they have the pace, strength and skill to get the better of Carragher and Co, so the pressure will be on the likes of Henderson, Malbranque & Muntari to make sure the ball makes it through to them on a regular basis, preferably to feet in to feet where the ball can be held up, or even run directly at the Liverpool defence.
I'm actually fairly confident going into this one. I think backed by a capacity crowd at the Stadium Of Light this weekend the boys will deliver.
I'm going for 2-1 to the lads. Asamoah Gyan scoring an early tap-in, with fellow Ghanaian Sulley Muntari opening his Sunderland account for a second. I can see one of the boo-boys (Carroll & Suarez) scoring for Liverpool too, and I think a late Andy Carroll header will set-up a nervous finish, but we've enough quality to get over the line.
Enjoy the game everyone, and Ha'way The Lads!!!