Giving Liverpool the thumbs-up: but will Rodgers and the Reds be smiling at struggling Sunderland on Sunday though?
Liverpool travel to the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon to take on a Sunderland side currently rock bottom of the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers’ men are looking to get back to winning ways after a recent blip in form, and the Northern Irishman has a number of tricky selection dilemmas facing him for the trip to the North-East.
However, the good news for Rodgers is that one of those difficult decisions revolves around the long-awaited Premier League return of mercurial front man Luis Suarez, who made his first competitive start for the Reds in Wednesday night’s 1-0 loss at archrivals Manchester United in the Capital One Cup third round, and who will miss out to make way for the Uruguayan’s top-flight comeback.
Elsewhere, though, the Liverpool manager needs to decide what formation his men should adopt on Wearside after his experimentation with three at the back at Old Trafford in midweek, who his centre-backs will be, and whether Spaniard Jose Enrique keeps his place in the starting lineup after his lack of concentration allowed Javier Hernandez to net United’s winner in the League Cup.
And so this is how we expect the Merseysiders to line up against Sunderland this weekend in a 3-4-3 formation once again, as at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
As long as the ball is not at the Belgian’s feet, then the new Reds keeper looks a most assured replacement for previous No. 1 Jose Manuel Reina, and you can be sure that the 25-year-old will be desperate to impress on his first return to the Stadium of Light this Sunday.
It is fair to say that the France international has yet to fully settle into his new surroundings on Merseyside, judging by his initial displays in defence for the Reds following his big-money move to Anfield on transfer deadline day.
However, the versatile defender surely cannot have been helped by being utilised in three different roles at the back already by Rodgers, although it was revealing to notice that he looked far more assured as part of a three-man back line at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
That should convince the Reds boss to stick with that defensive formation on Wearside this weekend.
The cultured Dane is expected to have returned from his rib injury in time for the visit to Sunderland on Sunday, after being forced off in the second half of last week’s shock home loss to Southampton.
Agger is likely to slot into the middle of Liverpool’s new-look back three at the Stadium of Light due to his ease when in possession of the ball.
The Spaniard was badly at fault for Chicharito’s midweek winner at Old Trafford after losing the Mexican from a corner, although the left-back was otherwise impressive on his return to the Reds' starting lineup, having been dropped for Saturday’s home loss to the Saints.
However, with Aly Cissokho still sidelined with an ankle injury and Rodgers preferring to utilise Sakho as a central defender rather than a left-back after his failed experiment with the Frenchman in that role against Southampton, Enrique looks like being spared the axe against the Black Cats, for now at least.
While it being far from ideal to use the veteran at right-back in the continued injury-enforced absence of first-choice Glen Johnson, Rodgers has little other option at present, especially as Martin Kelly has himself only just regained full fitness after a long injury layoff.
Having said that, however, the Ivorian has made a near-faultless start to his Reds career following his surprise free transfer move from Manchester City earlier this summer, a fact confirmed by another outstanding display in this unfamiliar role against United on Wednesday.
Expect Rodgers to continue with the 32-year-old as his makeshift right-back until Johnson returns from his ankle injury toward the end of next month.
One of the first names down on Rodgers’ teamsheet, the Brazilian water carrier will take up his usual position in front of the Reds’ back four on Wearside this Sunday.
He'll go quietly about his business putting out opposition fires by breaking up play before helping to launch counterattacks for the visitors with a simple pass to a teammate.
Having been utilised as a right wing-back against United in midweek, expect the Englishman to be deployed in a more defensive role at the base of the Liverpool midfield against his former club this weekend in order to allow his skipper to be given more freedom to roam further forward and exploit the porous Sunderland defence.
Captain Fantastic was one of the best players on the pitch at Old Trafford on Wednesday in his role as a defensive midfield player in Liverpool’s new-look formation.
The England international will once again be needed to drive the Merseysiders forward against a Sunderland side that is sure to be bereft of confidence at present, albeit from a more advanced position further up the field on this occasion.
As in his long-awaited comeback at United, Suarez will nominally start in the hole against the Black Cats, as the Uruguay international looks to continue his already promising partnership up front with Daniel Sturridge.
However, in reality the 26-year-old will be given the licence to roam free at the Stadium of Light and use his devastating close control and dribbling skills to create openings for his teammates.
The in-form striker will be desperate to get back to scoring ways at the Stadium of Light on Sunday after going three games without netting—none of which the Reds won—and who better to be facing at present than managerless and rudderless Sunderland?
GK: Brad Jones
RB/CB: Martin Kelly
RB/CB: Andre Wisdom
LM: Luis Alberto
RM: Raheem Sterling
LM: Victor Moses
ST: Iago Aspas