Liverpool return to Anfield on Wednesday, following a successful pair of trips to Manchester United and Cardiff City, entertaining relegation battling Sunderland.
Brendan Rodgers’ men will be looking to consolidate both their form of late and their title challenge in the run-in, whilst the Black Cats arrive in Merseyside with work to do in thwarting the drop.
Divergent ambitions, each concerning opposite ends of the table, make for intriguing competitive prospects on Merseyside – where Liverpool have dropped just four points all season.
Liverpool continue to be a rather healthy side, especially in view of how late in the campaign it is.
Only long term absentees Sebastian Coates and Jose Enrique will miss out on Wednesday’s contest, with the right conditions persisting for Rodgers to focus on tactical adjustments rather than plugging gaps.
Keiren Westwood remains laid-up with a persisting issue dating back to early November, whilst Steven Fletcher is also at risk of missing out as he hasn’t played since coming off at half-time against Crystal Palace.
Marcos Alonso will sit out a ban after receiving a red card last time out opposite Norwich, fellow one-time Serie A man Fabio Borini also unavailable as he is disqualified from playing against his parent club.
Predicted Line Ups
A feature of Rodgers’ success at Liverpool this term has been the tactical flexibility he’s found within his squad.
The Northern Irishman has favoured a diamond midfield of late and should persist with the 4-1-2-1-2 formation against Sunderland.
The biggest decision to be made is whether to deploy Philippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, as the two have alternated in the central creative role thus far.
Liverpool (4-1-2-1-2): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan; Gerrard; Henderson, Allen; Sterling; Suarez; Sturridge
Gus Poyet will be forced to make changes to his preferred starting eleven with Marcos Alonso suspended and Borini unavailable for selection.
Forgotten man Emanuele Giaccherini looks the natural option to replace his countryman out wide on the left, whilst Jack Colback will likely cover at left-back for the Fiorentina loanee.
Sebastian Larsson or Lee Cattermole are the candidates to take the place in midfield vacated by Colback, should he slide into the back line.
Sunderland (4-3-3): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Coleback; Ki Sung-Yeung, Bridcutt, Cattermole; Johnson, Altidore, Giaccherini
Liverpool have been irresistible in 2014, victorious in nine of eleven in the Premier League and still yet to taste defeat in the top flight.
The Reds’ current streak of victories stands at six, during which time they’ve hit the back of the net an astounding 24 times – an average of four goals per game.
Sunderland have looked out of sorts since late February as the fitness tax of maintaining cup commitments appears to have taken its toll.
Poyet’s charges are winless in their previous four, picking up only a single point via a scoreless draw with Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light.
Players to Watch
Liverpool: Steven Gerrard
Doubted in his ability to succeed as Liverpool’s deepest midfielder, the influential captain has been on a tear over the past six weeks and shed plenty of critics in the process.
Gerrard keeps the Reds ticking over from in front of the defense with a pass accuracy of 86%, of course always a threat with long balls over the top to pick out Suarez or Sturridge (171 of 235 – 73% accuracy).
Sunderland will be as vulnerable as any to the talismanic midfielder’s powers, as he’ll be looking to add to an impressive tally of 52 chances created, including nine assists, in pursuit of his first Premier League title.
Sunderland: Adam Johnson
Liverpool’s weakness is no secret at this point – it’s at the back and the Merseysiders’ modus operandi is to simply outscore opponents with a dazzling attack.
Johnson has been in fine stead as Sunderland’s primary danger man under Poyet, the side’s creative hub with a team-leading 37 chances coming from his boots – not to mention he tops the scoring charts for the Black Cats with seven goals as well.
The task is clear for Sunderland at Anfield – they’ll need to be beating Simon Mignolet to have any chance of getting a result on the day.
And seeing as Johnson – the subject of calls for World Cup inclusion – is the Black Cats’ resident specialist in unlocking defences, the onus will largely fall on him to perform.
Liverpool are running riot through any and all comers at present, and its difficult to see that ending against a relegation-threatened outfit in a poor run of form.
The Reds will know full well the value of picking up every point possible with title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea still on the fixture list and won’t be inclined to slip up.
Expect plenty of scoring as Sunderland may be able to get on the board a la Cardiff – but the high majority of it to come from the voracious Merseysiders.
Liverpool 4-1 Sunderland