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Match Preview: Liverpool (H) - New Year, New Sunderland?

Sunderland’s first game of 2017 is not an easy one - and with the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s side comes the realisation that another loss could further widen the gap at the bottom of the table. Can we defy all logic and take three points today?

Burnley v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

The less said about last Saturday’s defeat away to Burnley, the better. The complete lack of cohesiveness, coupled with the squad’s inability to match Burnley’s drive and determination, was a real kick in the teeth - especially after beating Watford and performing well against Manchester United. Typical Sunderland - one step forward, two steps back.

Confidence must be rock bottom in the Sunderland camp right now, and David Moyes has an incredibly challenging task of raising the team’s morale ahead of Liverpool’s visit to the Stadium of Light.

The debacle at Turf Moor isn’t a particularly tricky game to analyse - Sunderland simply failed to do the basics of what is required to play football. Moyes himself was well aware of the poor showing when probed about his side’s horrific showing noting that:

We made the same mistakes time and time again; missed headers, missed bouncing balls, the same stuff.

It really was painful to watch at times, as a comedy of errors allowed a robust Burnley side to reinforce their mid-table position with a 9 point buffer between themselves and the relegation zone. Moyes was stern in his post match presser, and didn’t hold back with his criticism of his team.

My players were well briefed on the opposition and you have to hope they take that into the game - but it was dire, as bad as anything I have been involved in here.

Burnley v Sunderland - Premier League
David Moyes described the team’s performance as “dire” - hard to disagree with that analysis.
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

So do we have any real chance at picking up some desperately needed points this weekend? On paper, and after the weekend’s showing, the simple answer would be no. But then again, this is Sunderland we’re talking about - nothing is ever quite so simple.

Keeping Jürgen Klopp’s men quiet will be an extraordinarily tall order, however. As noted in our weekly Scout Report - Liverpool’s front four of Firmino, Lallana, Mane and Phillipe Coutinho (fortunately unable to play through injury) have a phenomenal return of 26 goals and 19 assists so far this season. Liverpool will certainly fancy a big win on Wearside after reviewing our most recent match footage.

The men from Merseyside won’t take Sunderland lightly for several reasons, though. The manner in which we frustrated them for 75 minutes back in November will certainly prompt Klopp to encourage his men to go all out for a win. Couple our previous showing, which Klopp described as “The most defensive team I ever saw in my life,” with the fact that Liverpool are 6 points off the league leaders, Chelsea, then you’d be surprised if Liverpool didn’t go all out to prove that they’re still in with a shout of the title.

Liverpool v Manchester City - Premier League
Klopp’s side are still more than capable of winning the title despite trailing leaders, Chelsea.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Sunderland’s task will be made all the more difficult as both Victor Anichebe and Lamine Kone could potentially miss today’s match after picking up knocks in the loss to Burnley. This injury crisis has no end in sight - if we don’t strengthen in January there is a strong possibility that we won’t have a squad capable of putting up a fight against relegation.

David Moyes will need to completely rethink his strategy for this upcoming game if Anichebe is indeed unavailable - which a hamstring injury would suggest is indeed the case. Big Vic has been the outlet through which everything that has been good this season has flowed through. His presence alone is enough to create space and time for others, so to lose him for possibly an extended period of time is extremely worrying.

In my own humble opinion, David Moyes must be radical in his tactical remodel in order to potentially spring a surprise result. Liverpool have a poor defensive record for a club battling for the title - 21 goals conceded in 19 games certainly suggests that Sunderland could find the net this weekend, if they get their tactics right.

Potentially deploying a fluid front four of Borini, Defoe, Januzaj and Khazri could give Liverpool some trouble. Encouraging said players to be as creative, and offensive as possible could blunt Liverpool’s own attacking gameplan. It might sound a bit naïve, but Liverpool struggle when forced onto the back foot, so why not try and prove the age old adage of attack being the best form of defence true?

Sunderland desperately need central midfielders with enough energy to harry Liverpool’s creative outlets. Didier Ndong is the obvious candidate along with Jason Denayer should he make the squad; however, Sebastian Larsson, Steven Pienaar and Jack Rodwell quite simple aren’t good/fit enough to fulfill the duties required of this system. Either Ethan Robson, or Elliot Embleton must be given an opportunity to prove their worth. Their youthful enthusiasm coupled with their raw talent could be vital in order to have enough energy and composure in both shielding the defence, and acting as an outlet for the front four. Regardless, AFCON will demand that the U23’s will have a part to play over the next few weeks, so why not give them the opportunity in a game that so few of us expect to succeed in?

Sunderland Training Session
Could Robson be given the opportunity to stake a claim at a starting berth?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Team News

As already mentioned, Sunderland’s injury woes have further increased with both Lamine Kone and Victor Anichebe possibly missing the Liverpool game. There is no concrete update on Denayer’s availability either, and Billy Jones will take to the stands to serve a one-match ban after collecting 5 yellow cards. Exasperating.

Liverpool will still be without Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson who both will sit the game due to injury. Then again, the likes of Can, Lallana, Leiva, Milner, Wijnaldum, and perhaps even young Marko Grujić or Kevin Stewart are more than capable replacements.

Predictions

Predicted XI: Mannone, PVA, Djilobodji, O’Shea, Love, Larsson, Pienaar, Ndong, Borini, Defoe, Januzaj.

Score Prediction: If Moyes plays safe then I’m afraid to say I see a big number on the Liverpool scoresheet - maybe a 0-4 defeat. Should he mix it up with a new style, then perhaps the response could result in a more positive outcome, perhaps even a 1-1 draw.