Liverpool Preview (H) - September 15
SUNDERLAND FINALLY head back to the Stadium of Light this weekend as they play host to someone for the first time this season in Brendan Rodgers` brand-new Liverpool.
It has of course been a particularly poignant week for Reds` supporters with the shock revelations on Wednesday released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel after a heart-breaking 23 year wait.
Saturday is sure to be a highly-charged occasion for the travelling Liverpool support as they try to switch their attentions back to football for 90 minutes.
Pre-season at Anfield saw an overhaul on all fronts with club icon Kenny Dalglish sacked on May 16 before former Watford, Reading and Swansea City boss Rodgers was eventually announced as his replacement, despite Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez looking set for the post at one point.
The appointment of Rodgers can truly be seen at the beginning of a new era for Liverpool as the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) who own the club have finally installed their 'own` man as it were, having bowed the fan pressure in appointing Dalglish permanently after his impressive spell as caretaker two seasons ago.
The summer Transfer Window was a fairly busy one for Rodgers as he set about implanting his football philosophies on the current squad whilst also trying to re-mould non-compatible elements.
Experienced campaigners Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Fabio Aurelio and Craig Bellamy all moved on along with Alberto Aquilani and Charlie Adam who left for Stoke City on deadline day. Perhaps the biggest departure of all was that of £35m striker Andy Carroll who joined West Ham United on a season-long loan. The former Mag was never going to be part of Rodgers` plans but the decision by the club`s hierarchy to loan him out before agreeing a deal for a replacement will leave Liverpool short on firepower until January at least.
Former Fulham attacker Clint Dempsey could not be secured, leaving Tottenham Hotspur to swoop for the 29 year-old American. Whether or not John Henry and co. will regret not forking out the extra cash for the prolific USA international remains to be seen.
Despite a slow start to the league campaign, a 3-0 humbling at West Brom on the opening day, a 2-2 draw against Manchester City and a 2-2 draw with Arsenal, there have been bright spots for the Reds` faithful.
Young winger Raheem Sterling is showing the promise so many predicted on the first-team stage for the first time with a series of excellent displays down the left-hand side, whilst £15m acquisition Joe Allen has proved himself to be a shrewd addition in the middle of the park.
The return to fitness of Lucas Leiva cannot be undervalued either, though the Brazilian international has since succumbed to another injury. Stepping in for the former Gremio enforcer is likely to be new loan addition, Nuri Sahin.
Turkish international Sahin spent six years in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund before a move to Real Madrid materialised last summer. However, just four league appearances with los blancos saw him move to Anfield on a season-long loan. A cultured midfield player, Sahin has won 30 full Turkish caps and made just one shy of 200 career league appearances ahead of the weekend.
Rodgers has a few injury concerns to contend with going into Saturday`s clash with Martin Kelly doubtful and Jose Enrique suffering from a knee problem. Joe Cole could return after a hamstring problem whilst Oussama Assaidi (groin) and Lucas (hip/thigh) are both out.
Martin O`Neill will be without Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley still, but David Vaughan is fit enough to make the squad once more having featured for Wales on international duty in midweek.
Jack Colback could return to midfield with Sebastian Larsson pushed back out wide to cover Adam Johnson who has a thigh strain and is doubtful as a result. Danny Rose could debut at left-back as a result.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Cuellar, O`Shea, Rose; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Liverpool: Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Carragher, Johnson; Sahin, Allen, Gerrard (c); Borini, Suarez & Sterling.
Referee: Mr M Atkinson.