As the mid-point of the Premier League season approaches, alarm bells must be ringing at Sunderland. Aston Villa seem to be cut adrift at the bottom of the table, but Sam Allardyce's side are just four points above the basement outfit and now seven points off 17th position following a poor run of form in the league.
Back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke City in November seemed to suggest that Sunderland were heading in the right direction under Allardyce, but it has been a miserable December thus far, with four straight losses dropping the club into 19th as 2015 draws to a close.
In fairness to the Black Cats, they have had a tough month on paper. A 3-1 defeat at Arsenal at the start of December was followed by defeat at home to high-flying Watford, before Chelsea started a new era with a 3-1 win on December 19. They then had to travel to Manchester City on Boxing Day, where they were beaten 4-1.
The next three games could well define their season, with Aston Villa at home to come this weekend, before they travel to Swansea City on January 13. Failure to pick up any points during that run would make it difficult for Allardyce to raise confidence in the final months. Liverpool have not been firing on all cylinders this season, but Sunderland have picked up just two points from their last six league games with the Merseyside club.
What's more, Sunderland have won just three of their 28 Premier League games against Liverpool, who were victorious at the Stadium of Light in the league when the two clubs met last season.
No Premier League team this season has conceded more goals (37) than Sunderland at this stage, while the Black Cats have only found the back of the net on 19 occasions. Should that pattern continue in the second half of the campaign, it is difficult to see the team surviving in the top flight.
Recent form: WWLLLL
Liverpool have shown signs of improvement under Jurgen Klopp, but it would be fair to say that the German is still searching for the right formula as he attempts to make the Reds competitive at the top end of the league table once again.
The Merseyside outfit will enter the match in 10th position in the table, but they are just three points off sixth-placed Manchester United and would join their great rivals on 30 points with victory at the Stadium of Light. The top four is a little further away, however, with Tottenham Hotspur's fine run of form leaving them eight points clear of Liverpool as things stand in the Premier League.
An excellent 4-1 win over Manchester City towards the end of November was followed by a 1-0 win over Swansea City, but it has been a difficult December for the English giants. They lost to both Newcastle United and Watford earlier this month and also dropped points at home to West Bromwich Albion.
Victory over Leicester on Boxing Day would have lifted the supporters, however, and they will be keen for the three points here as they prepare for upcoming matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, both of which will take place in January.
Christian Benteke netted the only goal in the win over Leicester and the Belgian loves playing against Sunderland - netting five goals in his last six Premier League appearances against the Black Cats, all of which came for Aston Villa.
Despite enjoying wins over both Chelsea and Man City on the road this season, Liverpool have lost the last two on their travels and Klopp will be keen to make it back-to-back league victories as Premier League action for 2015 draws to a close.
Recent form: WWLDLW
Recent form (all competitions): WLDDLW
Allardyce could ring the changes from the Man City defeat, with Lee Cattermole, Wes Brown, Costel Pantilimon and Jermain Defoe all in line for recalls, while there could also be a change in formation.
Benteke's winner against Leicester should earn him a spot in the starting XI, while Lucas Leiva could also come back into the team.
Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Pantilimon; Coates, Brown, Jones; Van Aanholt, M'Vila, Cattermole, Gomez, Johnson; Defoe, Borini
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Lucas, Henderson, Can; Coutinho, Firmino; Benteke
Head To Head
As mentioned, Sunderland's overall record against Liverpool is extremely poor.
The Black Cats have picked up just two points from their last six Premier League meetings with the Reds, who have conceded just 10 times in their last 22 league games with the North-East outfit.
Sunderland have also lost 70 league games against Liverpool - only against Everton (71) have they lost more.
Last season, Liverpool were 1-0 winners at the Stadium of Light and they also won 3-1 away to Sunderland in the 2013-14 campaign.
Perhaps the most famous meeting between the two teams came in the 2009-10 season, however, when Sunderland recorded all the points courtesy of Darren Bent's winner, which was deflected into the back of the net by a beach ball thrown from the crowd.
We say: Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool
All of the signs point to a Liverpool win here, but Sunderland just cannot afford to lose this game and that might carry them to a point.
Under the lights in front of a vocal home support, we believe that the home team will secure a share of the spoils, which would give the supporters a lift ahead of what promises to be a difficult 2015-16 campaign.