Liverpool 2 – Sunderland 0: Match Review

I was supremely confident before this match. Like uber, unwaveringly confident. I have never been more convinced of a Liverpool win in my life. For my Bet On The Reds piece before the game I recommended a bet on over 2.5 goals in each half. I put a personal bet on us to win 7-1 and I know a few people on Twitter followed my lead. Liverpool are magic and Sunderland are genuinely tragic. There was no way this was ending in anything other than a win.

Yet Davey Moyes and his ability to take a regulation 2-0 defeat should never be under-estimated. The former Everton manager has never won at Anfield in what is now fourteen attempts. He’s ground out a few god-awful draws, though, and he’s a man who you dismiss at your peril. Jürgen Klopp knows it, too. His pre-match press conference was all about telling everyone that even the slightest degree of complacency could be punished. So were the Reds complacent? Here are my thoughts.

Injury Crisis?

One of the big reasons I think Liverpool can win the league is our strength in depth. I wrote about our squad a few weeks ago, its depth genuinely impressive. I didn’t think that Daniel Sturridge would be starting the game, yet the news that emerged pre-kick off that the striker would be absent with a minor calf strain was still cause for concern.

I can understand Klopp’s reluctance to change a winning team, but it was clear from Moyes’ press conference when he declared that his Sunderland side would be ‘parking a double-decker bus’ that they had no intention of showing any attacking intent at Anfield. Might the manager have toyed with dropping either Emre Can or Gini Wijnaldum, considering the blatant lack of ambition in the opposition?

Regardless, there was no Sturridge in the starting line-up or on the bench and the continued absence of Adam Lallana meant that we were struggling to create opportunities against a team playing a block so low they may as well have been in Stanley Park. We started brightly, however, passing and probing and looking for chances to scythe our way through the Sunderland defence.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Then came the injury to Philippe Coutinho and heads seemed to collectively go. The Brazilian has been in sensational form so far this season, even catching the eye and unwanted attention of a Barcelona side that is already too full of superstars to fit him in. We won’t know until the manager announces the result of the scan, but slow motion replays certainly made it look like there might be a break or a fracture in there.

All of a sudden that strength in depth that I had been feeling so good about was being put to the test. No Lallana. No Sturridge. No Coutinho. Two of our most creative players and a third who hasn’t been in the starting XI but who is so good I’m under no doubt that he’ll still play a massive part in the season ahead. Given the sheer volume of games that we’ve got over the next month and a half, do we have the quality and quantity to cope? If only we could persuade Sadio Mané not to bother with the African Cup of Nations.

Breaking Down Defences

Make no mistake, that might well be one of the most defensive performances we’ll witness at Anfield this season. Klopp might have been exaggerating in his post-match comments, but his claim that that was the most defensive team he’d ever faced might not be too far from the mark. Moyes didn’t want to play football. He didn’t care. He’d won against Bournemouth and won against Hull so he’d already taken more points than he probably expected from the last three games.

More than anything else he just wanted to spoil the Liverpool party – you can take the Scotsman out of Everton but you can never quite take the Evertonian out of the Scotsman. He came close, too. That this terrible Sunderland side, who’ve been conceding goals for fun, lasted until 75 minutes without conceding against a rampant Reds team is actually remarkably impressive. I certainly got egg on my face for my conviction that we’d batter them all over the place.

Having said that, we did break them down. With the exception of Dejan Lovren and others blamming shots at goal from miles out, we remained patient. We recovered well from Coutinho’s injury and Roberto Firmino stepped up to the plate as our creative force in his fellow Brazilian’s absence.

We have won games against all sorts of teams this season. From the rigid, defensively-minded Chelsea side of Antonio Conte through to the constant movement and intelligent passing of Arsenal. We’ve beaten a very good Watford side that didn’t stop and kept on pushing and searching for a goal, scoring six past them. We’ve drawn just three games, two against tough away teams in Spurs and Southampton and one at home against José Mourinho’s Manchester United who showed less ambition at Anfield than any United side I’ve ever seen.

We’ve come from behind to win, we’ve taken the lead within minutes, we’ve steamrolled teams and we’ve been patient when needed. There’s an argument that we are very much the real deal and I can see a scenario whereby we win all of our games in between now and the 1st of January 2017. Teams will come to Anfield and follow in the blueprint laid down by Mourinho and Moyes, but how many of them will actually be able to succeed?

Title Talk Telling?

The relief when Divock Origi’s shot hit the back of the net was telling. Anfield went off like a bottle of pop, the noise suggesting that it meant we’d won the title, not three points. Sunderland had been stubborn and had successfully kept the Reds at bay for more than an hour by the time we went 1-0 up, with nerves around the ground perhaps beginning to show.

The big question is: Was the celebration so raucous because the team was a little bit off their game and Sunderland held their own against us? Or what is because the crowd are genuinely starting to believe that this side could win the title and every point feels huge? Manchester City beating Burnley earlier in the day meant that anything other than three points would be a let down, especially against a team as long as 18-1 to beat us.

A similar question can be asked of the players, of course. Mané had possibly his worst game for us so far; neither Can nor Wijnaldum were dreadful but they weren’t on fire either; Henderson gave an excellent captain’s performance but was perhaps below his usual standard. Was that all because Sunderland were so determined to kill any vestige of a football game, or was it down to the fact that the players, too, realise how well placed we are for a tilt at the title?

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

The next few weeks will be telling on that front. I believe we could beat every team we’ve got between now and the turn of the year, but we could end up doing something weird like struggling against Bournemouth next week. Perhaps Everton will finally start playing good football under Ronald Koeman and do us in the derby. The results won’t be as important to me as the style of play. Start to get nervy and stiff and the players will be letting the league winning talk get to them. Keep loose and clever and the sky will be the limit.

What A Manager

There was a moment in the second half when Divock Origi misplaced a pass and the Anfield crowd got on his back a little bit. Whether Jürgen Klopp was annoyed at Origi’s play or the crowd’s reaction is only for the manager to know. His reaction, however, was brilliant. He practically offered out the entirety of Anfield, screaming at the Main Stand and getting the supporters to respond to his call.

It’s difficult to imagine any other manager doing that and getting away with it. Not only did the German get away with, though, he also influenced the outcome of the game. He brought the crowd to life at a time when it was getting a bit tetchy, reminded the supporters that we are there to support, not criticise. I can’t remember a manager influencing a match as heavily or as importantly as Klopp does on a regular basis and I love him for it.

Imagine how the players must feel. I have never met Jürgen Klopp and I’m unlikely to do so any time soon. Yet I’d be willing to run through a brick wall for him if he put a call out to do so in one of his press conferences. These players are seeing him day-in, day-out and he must make them feel like kings. Ben Woodburn got a brief cameo at the end of the match and a trademark hug from Klopp afterwards. How must he be feeling today? He’ll be walking with a spring in his step, that’s for sure.

Klopp

Klopp

We may not win the league this year but our win over the Black Cats has convinced me more than anything else that we’ve got exactly the right man in the hot-seat to take us back to the big time.

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