Liverpool vs. Sunderland: Key Matchups to Watch For at the Stadium of Light
As we all know, this is Liverpool's worst start to a season in a half century, securing only one point out of a possible nine and scoring only two goals.
Sunderland presents an opportunity to get back to winning form, but as it has seemed of late, the Black Cats are no pushovers when it comes to playing Liverpool.
Both teams have points to prove, so here are some key matchups to watch for when Liverpool takes on Sunderland on Saturday.
Pepe Reina vs. Sebastian Larsson
Pepe Reina's usual confident goalkeeping has been missing lately.
He let in a howler against Hearts to allow the Scottish club back into the Europa League tie between the two clubs, and he failed to get his body behind the ball on a routine Santi Cazorla shot in Liverpool's Premier League game against Arsenal.
Liverpool's defense has been giving up way too many dangerous free kicks as well. If this trend continues against Sunderland, then look for Sebastian Larsson to step up to the dead ball.
Larsson is a dead-ball specialist, capable of whipping in dangerous crosses and stinging shots.
Reina is going to have to command his box and come up big against Sunderland to at least tone down his critics.
Jose Enrique vs. Adam Johnson (if He Plays)
Jose Enrique has gained a little bit of his form back after hitting a dip at the end of last season and is starting to look solid again.
On Saturday, he'll be facing Adam Johnson, one of Liverpool's many "one that got away" transfer dealings.
However, Johnson was recently ruled out of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine and was flown back to Wearside to undergo medical screenings. Head coach Martin O'Neill doesn't know if Johnson will be recovered in time for Saturday's game against Liverpool (via the Sunderland Echo).
If he is fit, then Enrique will have his hands full with a quick, pacy winger that is capable of just running right by him. Enrique will have to shut him down in order to close off Sunderland's main attacking options.
Joe Allen vs. Stephane Sessegnon
Joe Allen has been, by and large, Liverpool's best player so far in this young campaign.
His composure in possession, his ability to find the right ball and his willingness to win every ball back is a refreshing sight on an otherwise disappointing squad.
Stephane Sessegnon is Sunderland's reigning Player of the Year and has a huge bag of tricks up his sleeve for any opposition. The Benin midfielder is extremely quick, skillful and is capable of shredding opposing defenses.
It will be an interesting battle to watch. Allen's patience will be tested against Sess' skill and trickery.
Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel vs. Steven Fletcher
Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have looked shaky in this young campaign, as they're still comprehending a new system.
However, on their day, the centre-back pairing of Agger and Skrtel can be one of the most commanding and frightening pairings in the league.
But since they still seem to be working out the bugs of Brendan Rodgers' new style of play, Steven Fletcher is going to prove a stern test.
Last week, Fletcher scored two goals in his debut for Sunderland, securing a 2-2 draw against high-flying Swansea. Fletcher is good at getting behind defenses and causing trouble, and he knows how to score goals.
This could be Shane Long all over again.
Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini vs. Their Scoring Record
Liverpool's lack of goals has not been a result of lack of chances. It's been a result of Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini's inability to put chances in the back of the net.
It would be a huge confidence booster for Borini, who has been visibly nervous in all three league games so far, to score on Saturday, and it would help reaffirm Liverpool fans' faith in Suarez if he were to put one—or a couple—past Simon Mignolet.
The truth of the matter is that Liverpool is only playing with two senior strikers on the roster, and it's these two.
If Borini and Suarez can't find the back of the net more regularly, then January will seem like light years away.