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A New Beginning...Again...For The Third Time: Liverpool v. Sunderland

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Liverpool begin a new calendar year just as they've done

A much more pleasant black cat.
A much more pleasant black cat.

It's kind of silly to measure a football team's fortunes by calendar years. After all, the season runs over two years each time, and that's how you're judged. Playing well in a calendar year guarantees just about nothing.

But when you're hoping for turnarounds and new eras, you'll take markers wherever you get them. Sadly, the flipping of the calendar hasn't meant much the last three times. 2010 brought the end of the Benitez era. We thought there might be hope with Dalglish taking over at the dawn of 2011, and there was brief glimpses of hope. But it fizzled out at the end, and the following fall brought this pattern of unfinished business. 2012 didn't change anything other than a trophy, and it was the one that you can't really generate too much emotion about.

But it's not a time to look back, so we won't do that. Liverpool kick off another year we hope brings progress and signs of better times with a home game against Sunderland. Based on the recent pattern, it's worrying that this could very well be a clunker after a win. Because that's all we've gotten the past couple weeks.

As happens every holiday period, the fatigue and price that these glut of matches exact will screw with the lineup some. Jose Enrique is hurt, which means Stewart Downing will shift to left back because Andre Wisdom doesn't exist any more and Jack Robinson or John Flanagan apparently are grounded. While it always makes me shudder, the idea of Downing at left back was for these kinds of matches. That is, matches where the opposition is going to just pack it in and your fullback is going to be an auxiliary winger anyway. So I guess if it has to happen, this is the time.

The rest might depend on who's got the flu and who doesn't. Jordan Henderson apparently played through it Sunday, and who knows if he's recovered for this. Lucas didn't start then, so he will now. Joe Allen probably goes again, though if Gerrard's going to play I think we'd all rather see the energy of Henderson or the thrust of Shelvey bracketing him. We'll just have to see.

With Downing moving back to defense, the spot next to Suarez and Sterling is up for grabs. Shelvey could go there, so could Suso, and his clever running and passing (if on) would be useful against what is going to be a packed Makem defense.

Where you fear for Downing is the counter, because Sunderland are going to want to counter down the wings. Lucas will be needed to deal with Sessegnon behind the main striker Fletcher. He's a real worry because he's been the clinical finisher that Liverpool have lacked and have been hurt by when they convert one of the very few chances they get against the run of play. Sunderland have recently scalped Man City, and won three of their last five.

At some point, consistency is going to have to be found. That would have to start with two consecutive wins. Get that, and it'll actually be three of four wins. That's a start, if not cause for celebration. Then everyone gets a break for the FA Cup, before that oh so enjoyable occasion of a trip to the Theater of Prawns. So yeah, this one is needed.