It’s almost top versus bottom Wednesday night, as desperate Sunderland visit free-scoring Liverpool in the hope of causing an upset and taking a step toward Premier League survival in the process.
While many in the media are beginning to flaunt the idea that Reds manager Brendan Rodgers’ over-achievement could see him cast as Manager of the Year, Sunderland’s Uruguayan boss Gus Poyet (via Sky Sports) this week claimed that, in fact, Liverpool would be mid-table if it wasn't for compatriot—and certainty for Player of the Year—Luis Suarez.
Leaving the brilliant Uruguayan out of the discussion for once, let’s take a look at the other key players for Wednesday night.
Ex-Mackem Jordan Henderson still clearly loves his boyhood club—as demonstrated by his appearance at Wembley to support The Black Cats in the League Cup final in February. But despite a slow start to his Liverpool career, weighed down by a heavy price tag, he has blossomed into one of Rodgers’ most trusted and improved charges, as The Independent's Carl Markham highlights.
Henderson’s industry and work ethic is a vital component of Liverpool’s midfield, the epicentre of their possession game. It has made him a likely participant in England’s World Cup campaign this summer.
Onetime Manchester City and England winger, Johnson has enjoyed a decent season for the struggling Black Cats and has been one of Poyet’s positives. With nine goals so far this season, he is the visitors' leading goalscorer and might find joy against Liverpool’s impressive but inexperienced right-footed young left-back, John Flanagan.
If he can re-find some of the old form that once persuaded City to part with £7 million for his services, then this is one area where Sunderland might find some joy.
Liverpool’s defence has come under scrutiny at times this season as the Reds seemingly attempt to outscore any opponent irrespective of how many are conceded—a case raised again at the weekend when Liverpool ran out 6-3 winners to second from bottom Cardiff, in a game where Skrtel himself bagged two.
In Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho, Liverpool boast first-class defenders making it seem to be a style problem, rather than personnel. However, Liverpool must put doubts to bed and put on a defensively sound display, something to which Skrtel will be central.
Cattermole’s ability in breaking up opposition play will be tested to its limits against the Premier League’s best possession-oriented side.
Sometimes, the ugly but necessary side of the game can be overlooked, but if Sunderland are to stand a chance of getting a result, it could find its genesis here. Cattermole brings his game to Liverpool’s talented but delicate midfield, Steven Gerrard notwithstanding.
The Reds’ skipper will be desperately hoping to avoid a booking, which would trigger a suspension and see him potentially miss some upcoming important fixtures.
Liverpool’s midfield is buoyed by the availability of Lucas Leiva to relive some of the defensive burden from Gerrard, but his performances in his new position this season have been instrumental in Liverpool’s good fortune, and Brendan Rodgers won’t want to lose that.
That said, as a player who has always put himself on the line for his club, expect him get stuck into the midfield, if selected.
Goals will be hard to come by for Sunderland, not least given the fact that they are without on-loan Italian international Fabio Borini, who is unable to play against his parent club. Although often deployed as a wide forward, Borini has a knack of contributing goals in the bigger matches and his presence will be missed by the visitors.
So much so that Poyet has recalled Connor Wickham from his loan at Leeds to fill in up front, although USA international Jozy Altidore will likely retain his place despite plundering just one goal this season. Liverpool’s defence has caused concern, though, and Altidore’s raw power could ask the Reds’ defence some awkward questions.