Liverpool will look to improve their push for a top-four finish in the Premier League this weekend, as they travel to Sunderland for Saturday's early kick-off.
Brendan Rodgers' men didn't have the greatest first-half of the season to put it mildly and sit just eighth in the top flight, seven points behind Southampton who command the final Champions League spot.
The Reds needed captain Steven Gerrard to drag them through to the fourth round of the FA Cup on Monday night, with his two goals helping defeat League Two's AFC Wimbledon 2-1 at Kingsmeadow.
Stadium of Light promises to be test of revival
Sunderland are rooted to 14th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone. They have however put in some decent performances at Stadium Of Light this term, holding league-leaders Chelsea to a goal-less draw before narrowly being beaten by title-holders Manchester City 3-2.
In the reverse fixture at Anfield this term, Liverpool were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Gus Poyet's outfit and the Black Cats had chances of their own to return to the North East with three points and it could be a difficult task for Rodgers side.
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Predicted starting XI
Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet
Simon Mignolet has a dark cloud over his Anfield career and the likelihood is that he won’t be first-choice goalkeeper next season.
With January wearing on, the Belgian’s chances of gaining regular first-team football for the Reds is increasing, however he hasn’t done much to impress his manager. Against AFC Wimbledon, he was at fault for the Dons’ goal when he came and missed George Francomb’s corner, leaving Adebayo Akinfenwa with a simple tap-in.
With Brad Jones out injured, Rodgers has no option to start the shot-stopper against his former club and there’s no doubt Poyet will instruct his players to target Mignolet, especially from set-pieces.
The 26-year-old therefore must show his character and put in a bold performance if he is to save his Merseyside career.
Centre-back – Emre Can
The German has been playing in the defence for Liverpool’s last few games and hasn’t done too badly. He’s blessed with a massive stature and can bully attackers off the ball with ease as well as being brave and hard in the tackle. Liverpool too have a defender who is good on the ball, meeting Rodgers’ manifesto of playing football from the back - Emre Can, being a natural midfielder, has the ability to pick excellent passes and start attacks from his team.
Centre-back – Martin Skrtel
You never get a dull moment with Martin Skrtel. He’s either the hero or the villain and the same occurred against Wimbledon. In the first-half, the ex-Zenit St. Petersburg man was poor, missing a number of headers by letting balls bounce instead of meeting them first time, leaving fans with their hearts in their mouth. However, in the second-period the Slovakian improved and won a number of vital headers inside his box that saw his side through.
Centre-back – Mamadou Sakho
The Frenchman is beginning to show all of his talents of late. The case with Mamadou Sakho has always been that he needs games under his belt to really starting improving and portray his true capabilities. He’s had a consistent run of starts in the Liverpool line-up and you can see how much he is improving, especially on the ball. Questions have been asked about the £16 million paid for him last summer, however his recent performances are starting to justify that.
Right-wingback – Lazar Markovic
Lazar Markovic has slowly and surely nurtured himself into English football and beginning to find his feet. The Serb was not suited to the game against Wimbledon, playing on a poor pitch that did not allow him to fully accelerate with the ball at his feet, as well as Dons’ players making it into a kicking match.
However, Markovic coped with conditions well and looked a threat on the attack, making a number of skipping runs and will be much improve bundles on the better surface in the North-Eat. At just 20-years-old he’s settled into the difficult position of wingback well and never forgets his defensive duties.
Centre-midfield – Jordan Henderson
Playing against his old club, Jordan Henderson will want nothing but three points from this game. In Liverpool’s last few games, the England international has been playing out wide and has not been suited to the role at all. Henderson’s energy is wasted when having to keep width and is much more effective when chasing down the opposition, winning the ball and getting forwards himself.
Centre-midfield – Lucas
Lucas has had somewhat of a renaissance under Rodgers and become a key player in the new system played. He’s the stop-gap between the front-line and the defence, sweeping up any lose balls and aiding to break down the opposition’s attack. Although the Brazilian is limited going forward, it is not his role to score goals but to prevent them, something he very much knows.
Left-wingback – Alberto Moreno
The Spaniard has an urgency to attack and is suited much more playing as a wing-back than a full-back. Moreno is excellent when going forward, displayed when scoring against both Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City this term, picking the ball up deep and driving towards goal. Although he may be a little more restricted playing away from home, the former Sevilla man will no doubt look to be on the move hunting for goals given every opportunity.
Attacking-midfield – Steven Gerrard
If the Reds’ skipper can play against a League Two side, he’ll surely not be rested and line-up at the Stadium Of Light. Steven Gerrard on Monday night did what he has done for his boyhood club for years – carry his side. His first goal at Kingsmeadow was a superb, brave header and his free-kick for his second was unstoppable. The 34-year-old played a role further forward in London and although he does not have the legs he once had, Gerrard showed he can still expose space, as displayed for his first goal and is an asset to have when playing advanced up the pitch.
Attacking-midfielder – Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho now has men moving ahead of him in Rodgers system and is thriving. The Brazilian has to have men creating space for him so he can either glide past defenders or play inch-perfect through balls. His recent performances have been decent and will likely be the brains behind any attacks once again.
Striker – Raheem Sterling
Daniel Sturridge is almost fit and raring to go, however, Raheem Sterling will likely line-up leading the Liverpool front-line after having a rest against Wimbledon. The 20-year-old has done well playing as a lone striker, despite it not being his most comfortable position, with his speed menacing defenders and his movement creating space for Coutinho. He and Coutinho have an excellent understanding for one another, always knowing where each other are and have linked well this term, Sterling’s goal against Burnley being the highlight.
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