Ahead of our trip to Anfield, we talk to Liverpool fan and football writer and podcaster extraordinaire Simon Furnivall to get the lowdown on what we should expect from The Reds, plus some thoughts on the rest of the season.
Simon Furnivall: It's very difficult to tell, frankly. Only once this season have we had back-to-back wins, but all seven of our victories have come against clubs in the bottom half of the table. We've been scoring more goals of late, we've scored in each of our last seven games (even in the horrific loss against Aston Villa) but conversely we're also conceding a few more. To be honest, we're so inconsistent that there really isn't any way of telling which Liverpool will turn up.
What do you think of Brendan Rodgers? He always seems to come across as someone who is very pleased with himself. Am I being unfair to him?
SF: I don't think that's unfair, and certainly not from a Sunderland fan following his comments after your game against Swansea last season. I can completely understand why fans of other sides would judge him as smug, I don't consider that an unfair charge at all. As a Liverpool fan, however, I do enjoy the slightly arrogant air that he carries and he has certainly got a lot of fans onside by being quite open and honest with the various fansites that follow the club.
Is he the right man to lead Liverpool back to some kind of former glory?
SF: That is the 'big one', isn't it? It depends on what you mean by 'former glory'. Can he lead us to the title and European Cup? I doubt there are many, if any who could without massive investment from the owners to compete with the likes of City and Chelsea in the transfer market. Can he get us back to a place where we can compete with the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham for that fourth Champions League spot? Yes, I think he can but only if he enjoys the sort of patience and backing from fans and owners alike that is in short supply in football.
And when will your 'transitional' period come to an end?
SF: We've been in it for about three years now (we played our last Champions League game in December 2009) and you've got to think it'll have to end soon otherwise we'll become stuck as the mid-table club we currently are. I think most of the sensible Liverpool fans (there are plenty of us, despite what Twitter may have you believe) accept that this season is 'transitional' and nigh on a write-off in terms of achieving anything, but realistically I think there has to be significant progress made next season if Rodgers is to keep the majority on board with his 'project'.
'Being Liverpool' got the club a lot of attention. What did you make of the series? (I didn't actually get to see any of it)
SF: I think it was unfortunate. It was all agreed before Rodgers came in and he had no option other than to go ahead with it, but he looked very uncomfortable throughout. I don't think it did any damage to the club or its reputation, those who don't like Liverpool were going to find things in it to mock regardless of its content. In the end it was a piece of inconsequential fluff that I would have rather done without, but I wouldn't say bothered me hugely.
What do you make of Sunderland this year?
SF: To be frank, until recently I haven't been at all impressed. I was among those who were questioning Martin O'Neill (I've never been his biggest fan anyway for a number of reasons) and not only were results poor but, from what I saw, the football was dreadful too. I am a big fan of Steven Fletcher and I think he's got it in him to trouble pretty much any defence, but it looked like you were missing any sort of creative spark. The three recent wins have obviously turned things around and I certainly don't see you as part of the relegation fight any more. If I were putting money on it, I'd expect you to finish around 12th - 14th this season.
The transfer window is looming. Who do you expect to be in at Anfield? And who's time is up?
SF: Daniel Sturridge appears to be a done deal, and at £12m I think it's a decent one for us. He'll fit into the system, he'll be a regular starter and he has goals about him, something which we sorely lack. There are obvious weaknesses in his game, but he'll be an improvement on what we have. Tom Ince also looks likely to join, for anywhere between £4m and £6m depending on who you believe, which smarts a little for a player we let go 18 months ago. Again, given our lack of options up front he'll be a good addition. I'd like to see a left back brought in as well, and given José Enrique's injury against QPR we may be forced into the market there as our left back choice is now Glen Johnson or Stewart Downing.
As for exits, the aforementioned Downing has picked up his performance levels (slightly) in recent games but if a suitable home can be found then his time will be up. It hasn't come close to working out for him and it's better for all if he moves on. Joe Cole looks certain to leave, probably with a big fat pay-off from us to rubber stamp him as one of our worst ever signings and there is a suspicion that should there be interest, Jordan Henderson will be packing his bags. Personally I'd be sad to see him go, but he definitely falls into the 'replaceable' category that means I wouldn't cry if we got a good price for him. Sebastian Coates could also be leaving, at least on loan as Rodgers doesn't seem to like him at all.
Looking at the match itself, where do you think Liverpool can gain the upper hand over us?
SF: Two words, Luis Suárez. He is an incredible talent and far, far too good to be playing for us. I genuinely think he could grace the best teams in the world and not look out of place. Rodgers has given him something of a free role up front and his goal return (16 in 26 in all competitions) has been outstanding. Other than that we're struggling. Raheem Sterling looks tired, not surprising since he's played more games than anyone else at the club this season and Stewart Downing is, well, Stewart Downing. Glen Johnson has been in fantastic form at right back and, as he showed against West Ham, can be a goal threat, but realistically we lean very heavily on Suárez (not that being reliant upon your main striker and world class talent is necessarily a bad thing).
And is there anyone in our team that you don't fancy coming up against? Where might we get some joy?
SF: Our problem throughout the season has been that there is far too much space between the defence and midfield. Even in our recent big wins against Fulham and QPR that was evident, it was simply a case of the opposition not being good enough to take advantage of it. That's an area in which I could imagine Sessegnon and Johnson having some joy, and Steven Fletcher will always worry me. We've been on the wrong end of Larsson's set piece delivery before as well, and we haven't been defending corners and free kicks too well this season, so that's another potential threat.
And, finally, a prediction please?
SF: I can't be too optimistic, I'm not built that way. 1-1.