Bottom of the table and without a permanent manager, Sunderland come into their match against Liverpool at the Stadium of Light on Sunday (16:00 BST, live on Sky Sports 1) in dire need of a morale-boosting three points.
Last weekend’s 3-0 defeat away to West Bromwich Albion left the club with just one point from their opening five matches of the season and via a fractious post-match meeting between manager and players, led to Paulo Di Canio’s dismissal.
Di Canio had ruled with an iron fist, imposing strict discipline and ostracising those who failed to adhere to his rules. While such an approach may have prospered had results convinced his players of its benefits, four defeats and a draw certainly did not. After being comprehensively outplayed by West Brom, the writing was on the wall for the Italian.
Caretaker boss Kevin Ball immediately relaxed the rules upon stepping up from the youth side and has indicated that he is happy to welcome the likes of Cabral, Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole, all marginalised under Di Canio, back into the fold. Ball would like the position full-time, but former Brighton boss Gustavo Poyet is the current bookies favourite.
Ball led Sunderland into the fourth round of the Capital One Cup with a 2-0 victory over Peterborough on Tuesday. It would be unwise to draw too many conclusions from a win over League One opposition, but the Black Cats nevertheless displayed more verve and determination than in recent weeks.
Ball will be without striker Steven Fletcher for this weekend’s match after the Scotland international dislocated his shoulder in the defeat to West Brom last weekend. Defenders Andrea Dossena, Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown are also unlikely to be available, but Ondrej Celustka is expected to shake off a knock to be involved.
Liverpool come into the match on the back of two defeats in a week and will be keen to get a good result on Sunday following an otherwise promising start to the season. The Reds are currently fifth in the Premier League table on 10 points, two shy of leaders Arsenal.
The first of those defeats came at home to Southampton last weekend. With a shoulder injury sidelining Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool looked woefully short of invention and may even have lost by more than the eventual 1-0 scoreline had goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, formerly of Sunderland, not made a string of impressive saves.
In the circumstances, the return from suspension of Luis Suarez could not have been more timely, but he was unable to make a difference on Wednesday as Liverpool fell to a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the third round of the Capital One Cup. He was, however, very lively and came the closest to scoring with a late free-kick that struck the crossbar.
The form of Suarez will be key to Liverpool’s hopes of maintaining a challenge for Champions League place over the course of the season. There is much resting on the relationship he is able to form with Daniel Sturridge, scorer of four of Liverpool’s five league goals to date, and Coutinho, once the Brazilian returns from injury.
Coutinho will be out of action until the end of October and is joined in the Anfield treatment room by the likes of Aly Cissokho, Glen Johnson and Sebastian Coates. Daniel Agger should be fit after missing Tuesday’s match against United with a rib injury.
Sunderland vs Liverpool Betting Tips Verdict
Last season’s equivalent fixture ended in a 1-1 draw and that parity extends to the last five matches between these sides at the Stadium of Light, with two victories apiece in the other four. In the last 10 meetings at all venues, Sunderland have just two victories to Liverpool’s five.
Sunderland have been far from terrible so far this season, but lack a killer touch in the final third, with just three goals to show from their opening five matches. With Fletcher injured, it is hard to see where goals will come from, with summer signing Jozy Altidore yet to open his Premier League account.
Liverpool will be keen to get back on track following two defeats in a week, but they, too, have been far from prolific thus far, only scoring more than one goal on one occasion. The return of Luis Suarez will boost their offensive capabilities, but we nevertheless envisage a tight, scrappy match on Sunday – one that is most likely to end in a low-scoring draw.
- Back the draw @ 3/1 with Bet365 or SkyBet.
- Four of Liverpool’s five matches to date have only seen one goal, while Sunderland have scored less than a goal a match. In addition, nine of the last 10 meetings between these sides at the Stadium of Light have ended with two or less goals. Back under 2.5 goals @ best odds of 10/11 with Coral or BetVictor or William Hill.