Most people view black cats as bearers of bad luck and the myth is accurate if Liverpool’s previous league meeting with Sunderland is anything to go by.
Sunderland’s recent results against both Manchester City and Aston Villa were warmly welcomed by a Liverpool team who already need snookers to finish the season in one of the top four positions, with Wednesday night’s draw at Villa Park providing a much-needed boost amidst the gloom of the Reds’ subdued defeat to Manchester United. Everton’s result at Manchester City went down well too, and both have given Liverpool a huge incentive to perform convincingly when Sunderland visit Anfield on Sunday afternoon – if there’s a team that Liverpool are owed a bit of luck against this season, then it’s the Mackems.
It was back in October when a beach ball diverted in a Darren Bent shot to give Sunderland a 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, and the whole world got to laugh at the Reds for a few days. In truth, most supporters saw the funny side of the goal at the time, but by the following week’s home match with Manchester United all of the supporters made a joke about it, when a flurry of inflatables descended from the Kop in a defective attempt to draw a line over the matter.
Liverpool’s starting line-up at Sunderland that day was arguably the weakest they’ve named in the league all season, as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Alberto Aquilani and Javier Mascherano were all missing, and the likes of Andriy Voronin and Jay Spearing hunted hopelessly for an equalising goal. A much stronger starting XI will be in place for the visit of Steve Bruce’s side on Sunday afternoon, for a match that they dare not underperform. There is little point hailing a potential victory in this game as a turning point for the Reds – there is simply three points to play for and three points that will be very hard to get judging by Sunderland’s recent performances. Luckily for Liverpool, they’ll have two of their top players fired up and ready to perform well.
In all that has surrounded the club this season, the continued determination and loyalty shown by Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano has been most welcome, as both reportedly draw close to signing long-term contracts at Anfield. Reina has continually demonstrated his quality for the Reds ever since a bargain £6m move from Villarreal in the summer of 2005. A Reina-less Liverpool is not something the club’s supporters want to ponder as the unflappable and popular Spaniard quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite in his first season at the club, when his penalty shootout saves ensured that the Reds won the FA Cup. He is one of the leaders of the squad, often seen geeing up his team-mates and he is quite simply one of the best keepers around. With this said, he is likely to keep the bench warm for Spain this summer as Iker Casillas is ahead of him – what England would do to have a keeper of Reina’s class.
Mascherano is also one of the best at his given role. The holding midfielder appeared to be heading for the departure lounge marked ‘Barcelona’ for the majority of last summer, but he has recovered from a below-par start to the season and produced some of his best form in recent months. The Argentina captain is a metronomic influence in the Liverpool midfield as he never stops running, and while it would be nice if he could add a few more goals to his game – he can shoot as his only two goals for the club against Reading and Unirea Urziceni were crackers – his influence on the side cannot be underestimated. At a time when the future direction of the club is up in the air, fans will be delighted to know that they’ll head into it with two of their favourite adopted sons firmly on board.
Both will take their place in the team on Sunday afternoon when victory is vital for Liverpool once again. The Reds are entering a period of five winnable league matches before the beginning of May, with victory in all of them quite possibly putting Champions League qualification back in their own hands. The club, however, will not get too far ahead of themselves – they’ve been knocked back too many times this season. As a struggling Liverpool side prepare for the visit of the rejuvenated Black Cats this Sunday, the Reds will pray that Lady Luck is this time on their side.