“Has all the talk about Liverpool’s decline been exaggerated?” is how Louise Taylor of The Guardian‘s match report of Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool begins. “Or is it more a case of Sunderland’s deficiencies being under-estimated?”
Indeed Liverpool’s victory at a windy Stadium of Light was an improved performance, with flourishes of brilliance, juxtaposed with a dismal Sunderland display that should leave Mackems fearing for the Black Cats’ season.
Lazar Markovic bundled the ball past Costel Pantilimon as early as the ninth minute and that’s how things stayed, despite a number of chances for the visitors to extend their lead.
With Steven Gerrard deployed in a more advanced role than usual during the final north-east leg of his farewell tour, Liverpool were omnipotent. Tellingly, Rodgers’s 3-4-3 formation – initially featuring the impressively influential Gerrard on the right of an attacking trident that also included Borini and Coutinho – seemed to be fully fazing a Sunderland ensemble apparently unable to fathom this configuration.
Like Taylor, Alan O’Brien of the Independent is also quick to point out Liverpool’s stumbled comeback from what many deemed a failure of a season.
It is one defeat in nine now and a season that was disintegrating a couple of months ago has life. They are just four points behind fourth placed Southampton and within five of their old rivals Manchester United.
Markovic had probably his best game yet since his summer move from Benfica, particularly with a bright first half performance, which Luke Edwards of The Telegraph focuses on.
Markovic, like much of what Liverpool created in the first half, was a problem Sunderland could not solve. He smashed a superb volley off the Sunderland crossbar on the half hour. Pantilimon, for all his size, was nowhere near it.
Deployed in a wing back role, Markovic bursts forward from deep positions, making it hard for opposition players to pick him up. At £20m, the 20-year-old was not cheap, but there are signs there is more to come as he adapts to a new country and style of football. The former Benfica winger is improving fast and with Daniel Sturridge still to return from injury, Liverpool are a rising force.
The high praise of Markovic can’t be said for Fabio Borini, who’s workrate cannot be questioned, but his ability was.
Arash Hekmat of the Daily Mirror simply wrote: “No disrespect to the Italian, but he’s not the answer to the current striker shortage at Liverpool.”
Liverpool now go to Aston Villa next Saturday looking to further close the gap on the top four.
With Villa (A), West Ham (H) and struggling Everton (A) the Reds’ next three games, this is a vital opportunity for Liverpool to recover some ground from the shortfalls earlier in the season.