Oh Right, Football: Sunderland v. Liverpool Preview

Catwomanbr_medium v. Liverbird_right_medium
KICKOFF: 12:30pm EST, 5:30pm BST
TV: FSC in The States
MACKEM MERRY-GO-ROUND: The Roker Report

Geez, with the international break and then the sheer horror of the Hillsborough Report becoming public, you almost forgot we would get back to Liverpool playing actual games again. You wonder if you even want to. But maybe the support needs a distraction from what went on this week. But that would only be true if Liverpool were to bother to win, which hasn't exactly been a familiar task at The Stadium Of Light That's Not In Lisbon. Another limp performance, and even a losing one, we would probably all be as exhausted as supporters as we've ever been.

There were no injury concerns coming out of the internationals, so a guess at the lineup is pretty simple Three-fourths of the backline is known, it's just a question of whether Jose Enrique is fit or not. If not, then it could be Stewart Downing, Jack Robinson, or Martin Kelly coming in. Kelly's a small doubt after being brought off at half in the U21s but he's apparently back in training. If need be, he could be a go.

In midfield, even though he's basically been a double agent all season, Steven Gerrard is a cert. Though I never like the idea of him playing this often, especially when he hasn't provided anything that anyone's clamoring for yet. Joe Allen pretty much has to start with Lucas out. The only other debate in the lineup is whether Sahin will get a second straight start, partially to acclimate himself to the team and league. If he doesn't go it's either Shelvey or Henderson at his former club, but Jonjo appears to have usurped him in the depth chart. And quite frankly, Liverpool have just looked better and had slightly more threat with Shelvey in midfield. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing, I leave to you.

Up front, we know it has to be Sterling-Suarez-Borini because it can't be anything else. Assaidi has fitness concerns, Suso doesn't even shave yet, and I just say Joe Cole to have a laugh. Unless it makes me cry. Stewart Downing may be a fullback in Rodgers's mind now, so is that even an option? Who knows? Well, this was fun for a minute there.

Strangely, this will act as Sunderland's home opener, deep into September. They were supposed to have opened the Stadium Of Light That's Not In Lisbon campaign against Reading a month ago, but that match was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. So if Liverpool thought they were going to get a relaxed atmosphere, that's out the window.

Sunderland have gotten two pretty decent results in their only games so far. They drew with Arsenal in North London to open the season, and were up two against Swansea in Wales before the Swans clawed that back. Never good to cough up a lead, but in the end it's not a terrible result.

I always feel like a Martin O'Neill side is a pain in the ass, even if the numbers don't bare that out. They defend resolutely, there's a couple of thugs in the middle of the park making things rocky, and always a winger or two to threaten. Sunderland have two of them in the recently acquired Adam Johnson (if he's in the mood or fit) and the always tricky Seb Larsson. Just Larsson's set piece delivery is something to be feared. Johnson had to pull out of the England squad with thigh trouble, so he might miss out.

Leading the line is club record signing Steven Fletcher. He's a striker that actually converts his chances. I know I know, but it does happen. Stephane Sessegnon gave Liverpool plenty of headaches last year in this fixture, let's hope that doesn't happen again.

But I always feel a defense with John O'Shea in it can be breached. I don't care what the numbers may say or the reports, he has always and will always suck.

Liverpool, at least you'd like to think, should come with teeth showed and nostrils flaring. Maybe confidence is at an all-time low, but there should be a big desire to get on the right track. With the break, this should feel like a new start. But you know how this works. They'll be passionate and all over for about 20 minutes. But if that doesn't bring a goal and lead, everyone will start getting on their heels again and we'll all be chewing through our fingers down to the knuckle.

And I need my fingers.

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