Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres returned injured from international duty, and other Reds players – including Javier Mascherano – have come back late and tired, meaning Rafa Benitez has picked a side he would never refer to as first choice.
But that means there’s a chance to shine for those who do start, although we’ll have to wait until kick-off to see exactly how they line up.
Pepe Reina in goal is practically the only position we can be sure of, although it’s unlikely that Lucas will be anywhere other than in the centre of midfield. Jay Spearing gets a start in the league, a chance to show what he can do, a few days after he revealed that Rafa has been concentrating on moulding him to play in a similar role to Javier Mascherano.
Rafa starts with three centre-backs, which would usually mean one of them moving over to full-back. Skrtel isn’t likely to be asked to do that again, and it might be a bit much to ask Agger to do so on his return to the starting line-up for the Reds, but Jamie Carragher would prefer not to take that role on either. Perhaps Rafa is going to use three at the back, because he’s chosen two full-backs to start too – Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio.
Aurelio could play in a more-advanced role, but with Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun starting it seems less likely. If it is three at the back it’s possible we’ll see Babel up front with Dirk Kuyt, Benayoun starting just behind the two.
Ex-Red Bolo Zenden is on the bench for Sunderland after just signing for what is now the North East’s biggest club earlier this week.
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, McCartney, Turner, Ferdinand, Reid, Malbranque, Cana (C), Cattermole, Bent, Jones.
Subs: Fulop, Nosworthy, Da Silva, Henderson, Zenden, Campbell, Healy.
Liverpool: Reina, Skrtel, Carragher (C), Agger, Johnson, Lucas, Spearing, Aurelio, Benayoun, Babel, Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Voronin, Riera, Mascherano, Insua, N’Gog, Kelly.
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistant referees: Andy Newbold, Robert Madley
Fourth official: Neil Swarbrick