Liverpool and Burnley trade opponents within 48 hours of their respective matches on New Years’ Eve. Liverpool travel to the Stadium of Light, while Burnley travel to the Etihad on Monday night for the third game in this blitz of matches spread over the last few days. Jurgen Klopp faces a real challenge as this quick turnaround between games tests his team and his tactics to the fullest.
Although Sunderland have registered two victories (out of a total five) since their match at Anfield and are at the top of the relegation zone, they are still in a precarious position. Two points from Crystal Palace, who play their game in hand against Arsenal on Sunday night separate the Black Cats from the 17th position. The 4-1 loss at Turf Moor against Burnley would not have helped with the team’s confidence either. Add to that the loss of Lamine Kone and Victor Anichebe from the team due to knocks suffered against the Clarets and the Reds’ visit seems ominous.
Liverpool, on the other hand, come in slightly jaded but full of confidence. They have won four in a row since the draw versus West Ham at Anfield, and have consolidated their 2nd position by beating Manchester City 1-0 in a hard-fought match at home. Now they travel to Sunderland, less than 48 hours later, making this a great test of their fitness and determination. In the return fixture at home, Liverpool managed to beat Sunderland 2-0 after Origi and Milner scored two in the last 20 minutes of the game. Klopp will be counting heavily on both these players so that his team can emerge victorious out of an extremely tricky holiday season.
- The Black Cats are winless in their last four home league meetings with Liverpool, losing each of the last three (D1). In fact, Liverpool are undefeated in their last nine matches against the Black Cats in all competitions.
- The Reds have won their last two visits to the Stadium of Light by a 1-0 scoreline, with a new signing scoring the winner both times (Lazar Markovic in 2014-15 and Christian Benteke in 2015-16). Sadio Mane would love to continue that streak in this game.
It seems that there are very few positives in David Moyes’ side. Jermain Defoe certainly is one of them. He has had a hand in 11 out of their 16 league goals this season, scoring 9 and assisting 2. This contribution rate is slightly better than his form from last season, when he scored 15 and assisted one goal in the entire season. If Sunderland are to trouble Liverpool even in the slightest, Defoe will have to play a major role, especially in the absence of Anichebe.
Earlier this year, at Anfield, when Sunderland were trying to desperately shut Liverpool down, the Reds needed a special moment from Divock Origi to break the dead-lock. The Belgian went on a run of four goals in four games after that but has not scored since. Although the team is full of potential goal-scorers, Origi’s height, pace and willingness to put in a shift could allow him to grab a goal or two against a physical but shaky Sunderland defence. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why Klopp did not start him against Manchester City.
Victor Anichebe and Lamine Kone are likely to miss the game against Liverpool as they suffered a knock each in the game against Burnley. Most probably, their replacements would be Ndong and Steven Pienaar, the two players who replaced them against Burnley as well. Other than these two and the resulting formation change, Moyes has the option of rotating his side a bit but players such as Defoe, Borini, Aanholt, and Djilobodji will still be required if Black Cats are planning to give Liverpool any fight.
Liverpool’s captain Henderson limped off in the second half against Manchester City and is unlikely to feature against his old side. Coutinho and Joel Matip will also likely stay sidelined as mentioned by Klopp prior the City game. At the beginning of the season, these absences would have seemed very difficult to overcome, but Klopp’s squad has shown that at least in midfield and attack, the choices on the bench can really pitch in when called upon. Although some players like Mane, Lallana, Milner, and Firmino should start their second game in less than 48 hours, it is possible that Alberto Moreno and youngsters Ejaria and Alexander-Arnold get a look in either from the start or from the bench at least. It is also likely that Daniel Sturridge might get a start and a chance to prove his mettle again.
Perhaps Jurgen Klopp was preparing for this kind of a scenario when he got his side to play two friendlies in two days against Barcelona and Mainz in the summer. However, the loss against Mainz is unlikely to repeat at Wearside as the gulf in quality between Sunderland and Liverpool is huge. Sunderland have huge odds stacked against them and unless a fortuitous circumstance such as a beach ball aids them, this match does seem like another Liverpool win. If indeed they win, the Reds will stay in touch of Chelsea who seem to be on an unstoppable roll. But Sunderland will be pushed deeper into the relegation zone, making their annual struggle against relegation increasingly harder.
Sunderland 0 – 2 Liverpool