Norwich head to Anfield in buoyant mood, while Brendan Rodgers is under real pressure for a result. Dan Brigham gets the opposition lowdown from Guardian sportswriter and Liverpool fan Sachin Nakrani – who believes Rodgers’ job is far from safe
Dan: Hi Sachin. So, five games in and Norwich and Liverpool are on equal points in 9th and 10th, which I suspect is viewed rather differently at Anfield than it is at Carrow Road. There have even been some Norwich fans saying they hope we lose on Sunday in case Brendan Rodgers is sacked and Liverpool come calling for Alex Neil. These fans are a bit mad, but it seems to highlight the pressure Rodgers is already under...
Injuries haven't helped Liverpool, it seems, but what's behind the sluggish start and do you back Rodgers and his side to turn things around?
Sachin: Liverpool's start to the season has been very disappointing and to some extent, hard to fathom. The team started well, winning their first two games while not playing great before getting a draw at Arsenal on the back of a hugely encouraging display. This gave fans belief momentum was building, but then came the horror show against West Ham and the horror-horror show at Man United. In almost a blink of an eye, Liverpool had gone from serious Champions League contenders to a side lost at sea.
Once again all eyes are on the manager. His selections have been strange – "square pegs in round holes" as Graeme Souness said at the weekend – and shown a worryingly lack of an attacking strategy. Essentially it's been a case of hoof the ball up to the ludicrously isolated Christian Benteke and hope for the best.
This is why I believe Rodgers should be under major threat of being sacked – he's meant to be a manager with strong, well-defined attacking principles and currently we're seeing none of that at the club. The defence also continues to looks as stable as a three-legged table. Worrying times, and if we lose to your boys on Sunday there could be outright mutiny at Anfield.
Dan: You know something's not right when only one team has scored fewer goals than Liverpool's three (while only three sides have scored more than Norwich. And we have Cameron Jerome up front. Cameron Jerome.). Rodgers no longer has the excuse of Luis Suarez's departure – this is the Liverpool team he has built, so, as a neutral, it's very odd to see your club struggling for an identity on the pitch.
Do you think he'll carry on irritating Jamie Carragher by playing 4-3-3 against Norwich or try something different, and how would you like to see them set up?
Sachin: It's very difficult to predict what Rodgers will do given how often he's changed systems and line-ups since coming to Liverpool in 2012. I hope he goes with a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. It’s crucial we have two strikers on the pitch, partly because Benteke needs support and partly because we simply need more goalscorers in the opposition penalty area.
Dan: What have you made of Benteke? Is he the right man for Rodgers' Liverpool, and can he form a decent partnership with Danny Ings? Norwich fans, and John Ruddy in particular, will be mightily relieved that Suarez is long gone, but Benteke destroyed us in 2014 at Villa Park so there are a few jitters about coming up against him again, especially as he out-bullied Seb Bassong in that game.
Sachin: He's done OK; scored two goals – one of them utterly incredible – and worked hard. The problem at the moment is that he's totally isolated in the current system. He needs support/runners close to him.
Dan: After a solid start to the season at the back, it seems Simon Mignolet is coming in for more criticism, while Dejan Lovren looks shaky again and Joe Gomez's inexperience was highlighted against United. Has Rodgers ever really sorted out the defence, and does it remain a cause for concern for Liverpool fans?
A mark of this Norwich team is creating plenty of chances, both through the middle and out wide, so they'll be looking to take advantage of any lack of confidence back there.
Sachin: Liverpool's defence has been a problem throughout the Rodgers era. Quite simply, he doesn't care about it enough. The back four is never properly drilled, while the personnel leave a lot to be desired.
Mignolet looked nervous against Man United but generally has been pretty good since late January. The real concern is at centre-back – both Martin Škrtel and Lovren are simply not good enough. Lovren has got a lot of criticism – and rightly so – but arguably Škrtel is the bigger worry. He's been at Liverpool for almost eight years now and has barely progressed in that time.
Dan: Music to Norwich fans' ears, especially as we're in good attacking form at the moment. When the fixtures were announced this was perceived as our first proper test, but most Norwich fans seem pretty confident ahead of it... almost a little too confident.
Have you paid much attention to Norwich and how Alex Neil has transformed the side, and will Liverpool fans be expecting an easy win or a tough afternoon?
Sachin: I'll be honest, I've not paid much attention to Norwich so far this season, largely because I've not covered them yet or seen them live on TV. But I'm aware they've become a slick, attack-minded side under Alex Neil.
If they play like that at Anfield, that could actually play into Liverpool's hands as we tend to do better against sides who don't shut up shop and give our attacking players space to play. But there is so much edginess and negativity around the team at the moment that there's no guarantee they’d do that anyway.
It's a cliché but the first goal in this match is crucial – if Liverpool get it I can see them winning 2 or 3-1. If Norwich score first then the Reds could well and truly fold.
Dan: Alex Neil is forever going on about the importance of the first goal in the Premier League. So I'd imagine we'll sit in pretty tight initially and look to hit Liverpool on the break at every possible opportunity. Could be quite a cagey first half...
So let's finish off with some quickfire questions:
Where do you think Liverpool will finish this season?
Do you think Rodgers will still be manager at Christmas?
What's your score prediction for Sunday (time to predict who'll score the first goal!)?
Sachin: Liverpool are likely to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th.
Rodgers’ future totally depends on results – Liverpool keep losing and Rodgers could well be toast. A few wins and a sense that the team could, maybe, perhaps, finish in the top four would probably be enough to convince the owners to stick with him beyond the new year.
Liverpool to win, just. I'll go for 2-1.
Dan: Thanks Sachin. Can’t quite work out whether Norwich are getting Liverpool at a good or a dangerous time. When Alex Neil is being asked to defend Rodgers in press conferences, you know there’s a lot of pressure on him. As you say, the first goal will be crucial, but this could be a tale of two dodgy defences, so I’m going 2-2.
Sachin Nakrani is a Guardian sportswriter, and you can follow him on twitter at @SachinNakrani. His book, We're Everywhere, Us: Liverpool's 2014/15 Season Told Through the Stories of Fans and Foes, is available here