Early Bird Gets the Worm

Liverpool at Sunderland

Premier League

12:45pm (7am EST) Saturday, August 25

The Lowdown: That didn’t take long, did it? Two league matches under our belt and we’re back to the earliest possible start time. Only for the Reds do I get out of bed that early on a weekend. But, don’t mention this to Rafa, as he’s none to happy about Liverpool’s assignment to the lunch-time kickoffs versus certain other teams’.

In fact, the gaffer is probably still aggravated after the Heinze decision went against him earlier in the week. And with news that United are going to investigate Liverpool’s conduct during the affair to determine whether the club is guilty of ‘tapping up’ Heinze, his mood surely won’t improve. All this coming on the heels of a horrendous penalty decision too.

So, here’s hoping he and the squad take it all out on newly promoted Sunderland and their golden boy Roy Keane.

Gerrard chances of making Saturday’s squad are still up in the air due to his slightly fractured toe, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the bench. But, with the bench strength possessed in central midfield, somebody like Mascherano will serve as a fine replacement against the Black Cats. Otherwise, everybody else came through international duty with any serious knocks, so Rafa has a full roster from which to select. (Harry Kewell being the exception)

roy-keane.jpg

Roy Keane isn’t as lucky. Captain Dean Whitehead will miss the match with damage to his knee liagment, as well as midfielder Carlos Edwards (hamstring) while centerback Paul McShane and midfielder Grant Leadbitter should be fit enough to factor.

Sunderland come into the game after a 0-3 spanking at the hands of Wigan last weekend and a draw at Birmingham before that, having slowly digressed from their opening day victory against Spurs. Help may be on the way, as rumor has it Andy Cole (yes, that Andy Cole) could be signing on soon. It’s also been reported that Roy Keane may have given the telephone a second chance and has been linked with a move for Roma defender Sammy Kuffour. But, neither of those reinforcements will be at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, so Keano will have to make do with what he’s got.

Interestingly, the noises eminating from the opposing camps are quite cordial. Rafa had this to say about the former Manchester United captain and the upcoming match-up:

He is a good manager. What he did last season was amazing. To be at the bottom of the table and then get promoted is really good. He needs time to prove how good he is but I think he did something really special. Hopefully they will still be in the league next season.

I think he is a good manager now but I think he could be great in the future.

After losing 3-0 they will be desperate to win, especially at home. They have good supporters and it will be a tough game for us.

Keane, in return, had this take on Liverpool:

I really rate Liverpool and I think that with the signings they have made and the way the club has developed, they are stronger this season than they were last.

Liverpool are a very good team and I watched them play brilliant football last week. The fact is, they will believe that with the squad they have, they can win the title this season.

I don’t think you can look further than the established top four when you’re looking at who will win the league. People talk about Tottenham breaking into that group but I’m not so sure.

That doesn’t sound like a mind-trick to me. If if is, it would rate as one of the lamest attempts ever. Maybe Keane isn’t quite the SAF-wanna-be I had him pegged as being.

Five Questions TBA:

  1. Will Rafa risk Stevie G against an admittingly lesser but still dangerous banana peel team with the Toulouse return leg only days later?
  2. Will Roy Keane actually act differently ‘under the Sky Sports cameras’ as suggested in some quarters of the media?
  3. Can Michael Chopra produce the goods against one of the better defences he’s ever faced?
  4. Will one of the midfield youngsters (Leiva, Leto) make the bench (or even an on-pitch cameo) in Gerrard’s abscence?
  5. Am I actually going to be able to wake up in time after having committed to going out the night before?

It would appear that Rafa is going to stick with the 4-4-2 away from home. On the heels of the mid-week international action and because the sun rose in the East, we should expect a few changes from the Chelsea line-up.

Benayoun, or at least his agent, has been grumbling about his perceieved under-utilization in our three games this season. With Rafa, the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease, it gets left out in the rain to rust. With Pennant playing well enough, Yossi is going to have to bide his time for a solid chance and then grab it with both hands. One would imagine, though, that he’ll make the bench for Sunderland.

I’m not into guessing line-ups, but I am hoping to see Voronin in the starting XI, as his power and vision are well-suited for a possibly difficult and physical match like this. A Babel on the left wing would also be a welcome sight, as I think Riise hasn’t made a strong enough argument to continue in that position.

But, Rafa can ring all the changes he wants, as Stevie G noted this week, there is quality and competition at each position:

This is the first time in my Anfield career that I see genuine competition for every place in the team.

There are at least two, even three, players battling for every starting jersey and that can only be good for everyone. You have to play well to keep a place and there are no guarantees at all for the starting XI each week.

That is the thing this season, no-one in the dressing room can presume they are an automatic pick because there is so much quality right through the team.

On that note, let’s put that quality to work and cut the string on this yo-yo team.

And while this has very little to do with Saturday’s match, I just want to brighten your day with the words of Sir Alex, speaking on the aforementioned ‘tapping up’:

We are looking at Liverpool’s whole role in this. We are not letting them off with it. That is what we are investigating.

We will see how it comes out. David Gill is working on that at the moment. We will get to the bottom of it.

There was never any chance of Liverpool winning that case, so Rafa clearly did not read the Premier League rules. It is just churlish.

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