It's hard to be confident going into this weekend's game against Liverpool, but the regime change and a more relaxed atmosphere around the Academy is surely a huge boost.
Life under Paolo Di Canio doesn't seem to have suited our squad and if some of the stories I have heard about him are true I'm not surprised. Hopefully they enjoy life a bit more under Kevin Ball and we can start picking up points sooner rather than later. We are still bottom of the league, let’s not forget that!
We looked good against Peterborough in the cup midweek so I'm hoping the squad can use this as a platform to build on for the Liverpool game. The shape definitely suited our players a lot more than the rigid 4-4-2 deployed by Di Canio with Emanuele Giaccherini thriving behind Jozy Altidore. It is imperative we continue ditching 4-4-2 especially for games against teams like Liverpool who are so good in possession. To be honest though I feel we should have more points than we have but you don't always get what you deserve, as the Fulham and Arsenal games show.
This tie has had a bit of controversy recently with the infamous beach ball goal, Michael Turner’s comedy back pass and Luis Suarez’s penalty that never was after Jay Spearing was fouled well outside of the box by John Mensah. Liverpool are bringing a couple of former fan favourites in Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet, it should add some spice to the occasion with the latter sure to get a huge ovation from the crowd after his heroics last season. Just five games in and its already evident we miss him enormously.
Likely Line Ups:
I would expect us to play a similar side to what we did in the cup. I would like to see Modibo Diakité and Ondrej Celustka to come in and replace Carlos Cuellar and Craig Gardner in defence. With Steven Fletcher out I would stick with Jozy Altidore up front and Emanuele Giaccherini playing off him. Lee Cattermole was by far the best player on the pitch on Tuesday night and really showed us what we have been missing, I think the combination of him and Ki in the centre is definitely our best pairing and they should be given time to gel;
Westwood; Celustka, Diakité, O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Ki, Cattermole, Larsson, Giaccherini; Altidore
Max Munton, co-founder of Liverpool's massive (and best) fansite This Is Anfield kindly took some time out to answer a few questions on the match;
WAW: Where do you expect Sunderland to finish this season?
Max: I think the right steps were taken into removing the problem (Di Canio) at the Stadium of Light and you won't get relegated, but it will take some time to recover from such a mad summer - especially with all the new faces he was allowed to bring in. 15th is best I think Sunderland can hope for.
WAW: Can you tell us about Liverpool's start to the season...the one-nils are getting a bit silly now are they not?
Max: It did look that way after three Sturridge 1-0s in the opening three games, but we've slipped up a bit since the international break with two defeats (one in the League Cup) and a draw. This Sunday's game is really seen as so important for us not losing our grip towards the top of the table.
WAW: Realistically could you be title challengers?
Max: No. And I'm glad MOST fans didn't jump on the easy bandwagon that we could be when we were sat top of the table after four games. We're an increasingly young team and we've been made no promises, except for the target of improving season upon season. Personally, with so many teams fighting for those top four places, I'm happy this season just to improve on last season's points total. Significantly would be a bonus.
WAW: Simon Mignolet is mint though, isn't he?
Max: Brilliant so far. A very good signing by Rodgers. He appears better than Reina did in his last few seasons for Liverpool. His distribution lacks a bit, but to be honest, it's not the most important quality of a goalkeeper.
WAW: Finally, who worries you most in the Sunderland squad and what is your prediction for the final score?
Max: The whole team! They'll be rejuvenated after player power pushed Di Canio out. I can really see it being a performance in front of the home crowd from Sunderland to revive the spirit in the club. The players will be up for it, as will the fans. I'm going to go an edgy 1-0 Liverpool win (Suarez).
It's a bit of a toss-up really between Daniel Sturridge and the obvious choice, the returning Suarez but given his excellent start to the season I'm going have to go for Sturridge. He seems to have hit the ground running and is really showing his calibre as one of England’s top strikers. We will need to work hard to keep their forward line at bay and Ball’s decision on centre backs is no doubt going to be a huge factor in this match. Let's be honest, the prospect of Cuellar against either of those is quite frightening.
I really think we can get something from this game. We seemed to play with greater freedom against Peterborough and unity showed for Giaccherini's goal celebration, this gives me hope we can turn the corner and start performing in the league. I’m going for a 1-1 draw.