Still licking their wounds from a comprehensive defeat away to Leicester City on Tuesday night, Liverpool welcome relegation candidates Sunderland to Anfield in an intriguing Premier League matchup.
The last time the two sides met in the league was Jurgen Klopp's introduction to an English top-flight institution in Sam Allardyce, resulting in a pitch-side confrontation that saw the Black Cats manager label Klopp a "soft German" after the game, as reported by Sky Sports, though both have since laughed off the incident.
That game finished as a 1-0 victory to the Reds, with Christian Benteke scoring the winner just after half-time, but since then Allardyce's squad has changed significantly.
Sunderland signed Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone, Dame N'Doye, Jan Kirchhoff and Steve Harper in the winter transfer window, as they continue their annual mid-season push for survival, while Allardyce cleared out some of the deadwood left over from previous reigns, including a surprise loan move to Marseille for Steven Fletcher.
Klopp may know what to expect from an Allardyce side after December's clash, but the Black Country native's busy January may spring a surprise for the ex-Borussia Dortmund manager.
Date: Saturday, 6 February, 2016
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Venue: Anfield, Liverpool
TV Info: NBC Deportes En Vivo Extra (U.S only)
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra (U.S only)
Form Lines (Last 5 Games)
Addressing the media on Friday afternoon, Klopp delivered some good news for supporters during a miserable February that has seen the Reds miss out of prime winter target Alex Teixeira, lose to top-four rivals Leicester and reveal a startling price increase on tickets from 2016/17.
However, while the German's positive injury update, concerning the returns of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, will be a boost to Liverpool—as the club's official website reports—they will not be available against Sunderland:
The day before yesterday [Sturridge] was together with Phil and Divock. If you see these three players then you know what you have missed for a few weeks.
With Divock, Phil and Daniel in training, of course you think after five minutes maybe we should take them back into the squad.
But that's the moment to say 'come on'; there are another three sessions which we can use and they are available for West Ham, that's the idea in this moment if nothing happens in the next session.
The trio will provide a welcome relief to a flagging forward line, though Klopp's defence is still struggling for numbers as Martin Skrtel remains on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi, Skrtel, Jordan Rossiter, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez will all be unavailable, while Joe Allen is a doubt after suffering a knock in Tuesday night's defeat to Leicester.
Meanwhile, Sunderland will check on the fitness of a pair of summer signings in Jeremain Lens and Yann M'Vila, with Lens struggling with a groin injury and M'Vila bruising his foot during the Black Cats' 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at the beginning of the month.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Allardyce provided an update on M'Vila, Sebastian Larsson and Younes Kaboul, as relayed by the club's official website:
Kaboul will be back in the squad but Seb is still having a little bit of trouble with the medial ligaments.
It's turning out to be a lot longer than we expected and it's obviously concerning for us, but hopefully he will recover shortly.
Yann caught the bottom of [Sergio] Aguero's boot and has bruising so he hasn’t trained at all today, so we will have to wait to see if he’s fit for Saturday.
Lens' injury could provide Khazri with the opportunity to make an impression on what would be his first start for the club, with Allardyce no doubt overjoyed with the options available to him.
With Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi and Skrtel all still out of contention, Klopp is likely to line his Liverpool side up in a similar manner to Tuesday night's trip to the King Power Stadium.
This should see Simon Mignolet deployed in goal, behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno, though with Moreno clearly suffering from fatigue against the Foxes, Brad Smith or Jon Flanagan could be drafted in as cover.
In midfield, while Lucas Leiva's poor recent performances could see him drop out, doubts over Allen's fitness are likely to see the Brazilian continue in a three-man midfield alongside Jordan Henderson and Emre Can.
James Milner and Adam Lallana should take up their roles on the flanks, supporting Roberto Firmino.
Injuries and recoveries could dictate Allardyce's team selection, with Khazri likely to come in for Lens and Kaboul potentially replacing John O'Shea.
Vito Mannone is set to keep his place in goal, while Billy Jones, Patrick van Aanholt and Kone should continue in defence.
If M'Vila is deemed fit to start, the Frenchman is likely to be deployed at the base of Sunderland's midfield, joined by Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole, while Khazri and former Liverpool striker Fabio Borini will support the in-form Jermain Defoe.
Likely Liverpool XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Lucas, Henderson, Can; Lallana, Milner, Firmino
Likely Sunderland XI: Mannone; Jones, Kaboul, Kone, Van Aanholt; M'Vila, Kirchhoff, Cattermole; Khazri, Borini, Defoe
Players to Watch
Moreno endured a nightmare evening at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday, with the Spanish left-back consistently out of position in both the defensive and attacking phases and, when called into action pushing forward, worryingly slack in his delivery.
Largely at fault for Leicester's second goal, Moreno showcased a mental fatigue that could be exploited by Khazri and the rest of Sunderland's right-hand side at Anfield.
If Moreno continues his poor run of form, he will be the one to watch in terms of Klopp's selection—as his place could be under threat in the near future.
Kirchhoff made the surprise move to Sunderland from Bayern Munich in January after a lengthy spell in obscurity, following his switch from Klopp's former side Mainz in 2013.
After struggling to make his mark in his debut for the Black Cats against Tottenham Hotspur last month, Kirchhoff has slowly settled into life on Wearside, and producing a star turn against City last time out, he was singled out for praise from Allardyce.
"I don’t know anybody who has played better than that in central midfield for anybody [this season]," the 61-year-old claimed, as reported by Richard Mennear of the Sunderland Echo, and if Kirchhoff is in similar form at Anfield, he could dominate the midfield battle.
Roberto Firmino vs. Sunderland's Centre-Backs
At the King Power Stadium on Tuesday night, Liverpool's £29 million summer signing Firmino was offered little support from his attacking colleagues and, despite showing flashes of quality, was unable to impose himself in the final third.
But against a centre-back pairing of Kone and O'Shea or Kaboul, still finding their feet, the Brazilian could hold the key to Liverpool securing a much-needed victory.
Intelligent, hard-working and with a keen eye for goal, Firmino could punish Sunderland's sluggish back line if he hits form again on Saturday.
Odds via Odds Shark and correct at time of writing.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.
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