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Preview: Can Sunderland Exploit Shaky Liverpool Defence?

Sunderland host Liverpool on the back of an encouraging performance against Manchester City on New Year's Day, so can Gus Poyet's men inflict more misery on the visitors?

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sunderland team news

Gus Poyet has an almost-fully-fit squad to select from after Patrick van Aaholt and Billy Jones returned to action over the festive period, with Anthony Reveillere also closing in on a comeback. With both full-backs fit again, Poyet's aims for them to provide width and balance to attacks should become clearer.

Lee Cattermole remains a doubt, so Poyet must decide between Liam Bridcutt or Jack Rodwell to play in the holding midfield position.

Elsewhere, Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez will compete for a starting place, and Vito Mannone should have recovered from a bout of illness to return to the bench.

Liverpool team news

The visitors are without Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson - whilst Joe Allen could be in line for a return to action after injury.

Former Sunderland loanee Fabio Borini could deputise for Lallana, but faces competition from Lazar Markovic and even Ricky Lambert should Rodgers revert Raheem Sterling to a more familiar role.

Predicted line-ups

Sunderland vs Liverpool - Football tactics and formations

SAFC: Pantilimon; Jones, Brown, O'Shea, van Aaholt; Bridcutt; Johnson, Larsson, Giaccherini, Wickham; Fletcher

LFC: Mignolet; Sahko, Can, Skrtel; Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard, Moreno; Sterling, Coutinho; Lambert

Key matchup: Width vs Liverpool's back three

Patrick van Aaholt's return against Leeds showed just how important he is to Sunderland; providing timely, overlapping runs which can penetrate a defensive line.

Against Liverpool, who have persisted with a back three despite defensive struggles, naturally there will be space for both full-backs to exploit, and so increasing the space between Liverpool's three central defenders will provide opportunities for Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson.

Recent form: DWWD

Draw: Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal (Coutinho 45, Skrtel 90+5; Debuchy 45+1, Giroud 65)

Win: Burnley 0-1 Liverpool (Sterling 62)

Win: Liverpool 4-1 Swansea City (Moreno 33, Lallana 51, 61, Shelvey (og) 69; Sigurdsson 52)

Draw: Liverpool 2-2 Leicester City (Gerrard 17, 40; Nugent 58, Schlupp 60)

Last time around: Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool, 29/09/13

If memory serves, Luis Suarez returned from yet-another-indiscretion to score twice.

Daniel Sturridge opened the scoring, before the first of Suarez's efforts, with Emanuele Giaccherini pulling one back just after half-time.

The ref: Craig Pawson

This will be the south Yorkshireman's third time officiating a Sunderland game this season (2-2 v Tottenham, 1-4 v Manchester City), having overseen heavy defeats against Swansea City and Hull City (FA Cup) last season.

What the managers said

Gus Poyet

We had a difficult month against lots of top teams and although I don't think we did fantastic we did okay.

Now we go into the second (part of the season) knowing we need to win more games and we need to be more clinical at home. Everything starts against Liverpool and the challenge is clear.

Brendan Rodgers

There is always a period of pressure you will come under; you can have the ball a lot of the game and you will still have to defend at some points in that game.

You have to remain calm; the single biggest thing has been mistakes.

It is not so much structurally but we have a tendency at times to make mistakes and that has cost us.

That is something we work hard to get the players to eradicate from their game.

Roker Report predicts

That Brendan Rodgers' struggles will continue. It will be great for the city of Sunderland to see another one of Rodgers' sides, but Sunderland's penchant for keeping games tight should make life uncomfortable for Liverpool. As draw specialists this season, we'll go for 1-1, with Liverpool picking up their first draw on the road this season.