This might be a season where expectations have counted for little in the Premier League, but seeing Sunderland stuck in their customary relegation dogfight is one outcome that has gone pretty much exactly as one would have envisaged.
On the back of four straight defeats, morale in the Sunderland camp will be particularly low and Sam Allardyce has acknowledged that changes in personnel are largely inevitable in the January transfer window. As things stand it’s difficult to argue with the comments of Allardyce’s predecessor Dick Advocaat, who claimed that the current squad just wasn’t good enough to retain their top-flight status this season.
Sunderland go into the Liverpool game with defensive concerns, not just in terms of their having conceded 37 goals in 18 games to date (a league high), but with having Younes Kaboul ruled out through injury and John O’Shea struggling with a calf problem. O’Shea’s form has been subject to heavy criticism from Sunderland fans of late, so his absence wouldn’t be of significant concern to many. Then again, Allardyce has relatively few alternatives and O’Shea’s likely replacement is another former Manchester United veteran in Wes Brown – not exactly the most convincing himself at times.
Liverpool have struggled for consistency under Jurgen Klopp to date, but it’s generally accepted that there have been more positives than negatives from his brief time in charge. He will be keen to address the recent dip in the Reds away form though. After claiming some notable scalps on their travels, Liverpool has gone down to defeats at Newcastle United (2-0) and Watford (3-0) in their last two away matches. A trip to the Stadium of Light presents as good an opportunity as any to return to winning ways on the road.
In the likely absence of Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, it would seem probable that Christian Benteke will lead the line for Liverpool, particularly given his match winning goal against Leicester City on Boxing Day. Benteke enjoys coming up against the Black Cats, having scored five goals against them in the Premier League (more than he has managed against any other club). Whatever the central defensive partnership Allardyce selects, it’s difficult to believe that they will be able to contain a striker of Benteke’s pedigree and power for 90 minutes.