Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland
Saturday, 25th September 2010
A 2-2 draw with Sunderland in a rare 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off at Anfield did little to appease the doom and gloom shrouding Liverpool FC at present.
A bizarre Dirk Kuyt goal early in the game had handed Liverpool the perfect start and could have provided the platform for a dominant performance and a much-needed 3 points. Instead, The Reds were once again unconvincing, lacking in cutting-edge and allowed the visitors to take the lead, before captain Steven Gerrard salvaged a point.
This latest draw leaves Roy Hodgson’s side with just 6 points from their opening 6 Premier League games and in 16th position in – an albeit early-season – league table. Such a predicament would perhaps have seemed unimaginable merely 18 months ago. As would the manner of Liverpool’s performances thus far this season.
The nature of defeat at Old Trafford the previous weekend was disappointing, if not wholly surprising, whilst the capitulation against Northampton Town was disastrous. Here was an opportunity for Liverpool, in two successive home fixtures (Sunderland, followed by Blackpool next weekend) to truly kick-start an already faltering season and begin proving the doubters wrong. Not only with a couple of victories but also in terms of more incisive and dominant performances.
Yet, too often this season the Reds have invariably allowed teams dictate the play and dominate large portions of games, irrespective of the opposition. This is something which would rarely have happened during previous seasons.
The post-match demonstration by the fans once more highlighted the overriding problem hindering any progress by the club at the present time. On a broader scale the ownership debacle is, of course, linked to shortcomings on the pitch and in the squad. But, on a day-to-day, match-to-match basis, the two issues are really quite separate. The efforts of those players who go out on to the pitch and the decisions of the coaching staff are surely not directly hindered by any glaring issues behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis. And, so, should to some extent be treated as a separate issue.
Liverpool’s squad may be short in certain areas, but they do still possess some quality players, capable of playing good incisive football. Read, Gerrard, Cole, Meireles. The feeling at the moment is that in some way they are not being given the opportunity to do this. There does also seem to be a lack of confidence amongst the team. However, perhaps we also need to be looking at the tactics and mentality which the team are being instructed to adopt.
The consistent theme throughout all games at Anfield in the early stages of the season has been an inability to dominate and control midfield and a lack of willingness to commit men forward and out-football the opposition. Rather Hodgson seems to be ready to sit back and invite the opposition on, whilst failing to retain possession or get players forward quick enough to support the front men.
The one player who is suffering most from such a playing style at present is Fernando Torres. The striker may have struggled for fitness and form in the early weeks of the season; however his cause is not being helped by the limited supply line which he is currently feeding off. With Liverpool struggling to provide the likes of Cole and Meireles with the possession and space to create for Torres, the Spaniard is simply not being allowed to perform at his lethal best.
Torres demonstrated his broader worth to the team in setting up both goals against the Black Cats. First, he was alert enough to steal onto a loose Michael Turner free-kick back to his goalkeeper and square for the returning Kuyt to slot into an empty net. Steve Bruce and Sunderland may have remonstrated vigorously that Turner was not taking the free-kick but allowing Simon Mignolet to take the kick. But that is not Torres or Liverpool’s concern. And before Bruce starts bawling about dubious goals he should perhaps first consult the reverse fixture between the sides last season.
Later, on perhaps the only occasion in the match that Torres was able to stretch the visiting defence, the Spaniard sprinted beyond Titus Bramble on the right flank and delivered the cross into the box for Gerrard to equalise with a well-placed header beyond Mignolet.
But it is goals which the Reds most desire from there star striker. He came very close to satisfying that desire in the opening minutes, when he was unlucky to be ruled marginally offside having fired Gerrard’s well-flighted free-kick into the roof of the net. Yet, beyond that, Torres saw few sights of goal, as has been the case all season.
Having been gifted a 5th minute lead, Liverpool really should have pushed on. Instead they failed to capitalise and it was Sunderland who grew into the game and looked far more likely to get the next goal.
Pepe Reina had to be very alert to close out and block Darren Bent following Gerrard’s badly misjudged back-header. However Bent was to have more luck from the penalty spot midway through the opening half.
Liverpool could have few complaints when a penalty was awarded for Christian Poulsen’s handball. Reina very nearly kept Bent’s spot kick out but Bruce’s side were level.
And things were to get worse for Hodgson soon after the interval. Sunderland have not won at Anfield since 1983 but took the lead. Bent was again Liverpool’s tormentor, heading in Nedum Onouha’s right wing cross to silence a dejected home crowd.
The Reds could honestly have few complaints, having failed to genuinely threaten the Black Cats defence or gain any measure of control over the match since the opening goal. The Reds laboured for a route back into the game from there, as Sunderland continued to look more astute in possession.
Liverpool eventually did get their break in 64th minute. And it was Gerrard who was once more to the rescue of his team. The Reds then finally showed some signs of improvement in the final stages and, for the first time of the afternoon, were able to put some pressure on the Sunderland backline.
Torres’s scuffed volley was saved by Mignolet and Daniel Agger had a glorious headed chance to steal a winner in injury time. But Liverpool’s performace had not genuinely warranted such a result and there is much more improvement required on the pitch – as well as off it – if the fans are to begin to be convinced.