Sunderland 2 – Liverpool 2: Match Review

This was always going to seem like something of a comedown after the high of the Manchester City game. The Reds were magnificent on New Year’s Eve, dogging it out against one of the richest club sides in world football to gain three points that should have put them out of the title race. The ludicrousness of the scheduling means that the players barely had time to have a shower before they were called into action again, however, and this game against Sunderland was crucial for momentum.

I had a theory that Chelsea would lose their game against Tottenham and then drop points away to Leicester – as long as Liverpool picked up three points at The Stadium Of Light. My thought was that Antonio Conte and his players would look at the league table before their game against Spurs and see that they’re only three points ahead of us despite winning thirteen games in a row. That won’t happen now, but where did it all go wrong for Liverpool?

Klopp Got His Line-Up Wrong

If Liverpool fail to win the Premier League this season then Jürgen Klopp may look back at the team he named for this game with a deep sense of regret.

It’s understandable that the German was afraid of making too many changes, especially considering the rhythm that the team has been in lately. Yet he could have made more and not disrupted the team too much. Divock Origi has been in the side until he was dropped for the visit of Manchester City, for example. He has been rested and also played alongside Daniel Sturridge when we beat Southampton 6-1, so they can work together as a two. Why didn’t he start the game?

The match against Manchester City finished less than 48 hours before this one started. That’s no time at all to ask players to get back out and perform again at the same level and it showed from the off. Sunderland, who were looking to respond after being humiliated by Burnley on New Year’s Eve, were always going to be up for the battle in front of their fans. Yes it’s true that they weren’t rested either, but we had a chance to take advantage of that because we’ve got the better squad.

Moreno. Dimwit.

Moreno. Dimwit.

Why did Alberto Moreno only come on to replace James Milner at half-time? Why wasn’t he on from the start? What of Kevin Stewart or Ovie Ejaria? Both have impressed when they’ve played and neither have disrupted the rhythm of the side. Could Lucas Leiva not have come in? Any of those players would have given us fresh legs and made us look fitter and more up for the fight. Sunderland were ravaged by injury and don’t have the squad to rotate like us, so we should have pressed home that advantage.

There’s an extent to which the line-up also looked a bit like arrogance. It seemed to suggest that we thought we could win the match simply by turning up. It’s no surprise that Daniel Sturridge looked like the best player on the pitch for the first hour – he was also the one that had had the most rest. Klopp talked of not having time to train and I’ve obviously got a huge amount of sympathy with that opinion. However it’s not as though this game was a surprise fixture that came out of nowhere. We’ve known about it for months.

Origi

Origi

There was enough time in between the Everton and Stoke games to work with Ejaria, Stewart, Lucas and Origi to ensure that they were ready to go for this one. I love Jürgen Klopp and I remain more convinced than ever that we’re going to win the league with him at the helm, yet I think he should be criticised for his team selection on this one. He couldn’t know that Sadio Mané was going to handball it in the most moronic way possible or that Ragnar Klavan was going to trip someone in the box, but tired players with tired minds make tired decisions. The manager got it wrong.

Henderson Is Vital To The Way We Play

Some Liverpool fans still don’t rate Jordan Henderson. They think that all he does is pass the ball from side to side and that he ‘isn’t good enough to be Liverpool captain’. Perhaps that’s based on a comparison to Steven Gerrard. If so then it’s a ridiculous comparison to make. Arguably only Kenny Dalglish can hold a candle to our former number 8 in terms of contribution to the football club. Anyone who thinks Henderson doesn’t take risks with his passing is neither watching his actual performances nor looking at the stats after matches.

Perhaps there was a ‘coin-dropping’ moment for some supporters this afternoon. Maybe they have finally noticed what it is that the midfielder brings to this side. His energy and dynamism in front of the defence is vital to the way we play. He was poor against Burnley at the start of the season but has been excellent since then. Against Manchester City he may well have been our Man of the Match if he hadn’t gone off injured. To say he was missed today would be something of an understatement.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

Emre Can, meanwhile, proved exactly why some supporters find him so frustrating. In this world of always needing to be ‘right’, he has such ardent backers that the slightest criticism of him results in a wave of uproar. Yet he started slowly against the Black Cats and struggled to get up to speed in a match that passed him by for the majority of the ninety minutes. He was also fortunate not to give away a penalty when the ball struck his out-stretched arm. He has ability but I’m not sure he’s grown much as a player since we signed him.

He has moments in a game when he looks outstanding but he’s also caught out far too often. There are times when he definitely seems to slow our play down because he needs too many touches compared to those around him who are able to move the ball around at such pace and with a clear intelligence. He’s not the reason we dropped points today, of course, but he is part of the reason we didn’t pick up all three. He most certainly isn’t a like-for-like replacement with Jordan Henderson and I desperately hope that the captain is back in the team as soon as possible.

More Points Dropped

For as long as I can remember Liverpool have let themselves down against the smaller teams. The main exception to this was the 2013-2014 season when we seemed to steamroll the sides that we should have but dropped points against the big boys. Arsenal and Manchester City away, Chelsea both home and away were the moments we dropped points that we really should have won back then.

Most of the time, however, it’s been the lesser lights that have been a thorn in our side. Compare and contrast to 2008-2009 when we drew at home to Stoke, Fulham, West Ham, Hull and Everton. In a year when just four more points would have seen the title return to Merseyside for the first time since 1990, we couldn’t do what was needed against the league’s cannon-fodder. Are we in for a repeat performance this time around?

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

It certainly feels like it right now. I still believe that we can challenge for the Premier League title and I’m not ready to give up when we’re a mere five points behind the league leaders. It’s difficult not to feel slightly negative after a result like that, however, and it’s yet more points dropped from a winning position. To go ahead twice against a side that is as poor as Sunderland and not be able to see out the game is really not good enough. That we’ve done the same thing recently against Bournemouth and West Ham is simply dire.

If Sunderland were up against Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United today they probably wouldn’t have put in the same sort of performance. They will have been going into the games against us and Burnley believing that their best chance of points on the board will have been from the game against the The Clarets. But it’s a sign of how vulnerable we are against teams that shouldn’t have any chance against us that they were so determined to put up a fight.

Rnoid / shutterstock.com

Rnoid / shutterstock.com

We’ve now put ourselves in a situation where our next two games are must win if we’re to have a hope of clinching the title from Chelsea’s grasp. Given that the first of those matches is against a resurgent Manchester United at Old Trafford, I’m not feeling as confident as I’d like. What we need to make 100% sure of is that if we beat the Red Devils in their own ground we don’t then drop points at home to Swansea the week after. Do that and we may as well give up on the title for another year.

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