5 talking points from Sunderland win: Including Lucas’ importance, Can / Sakho, and Gerrard’s role

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After Liverpool’s 1-0 away victory over Sunderland on Saturday, Jack Lusby selects five talking points from the clash.

It may not have been the goal tally Liverpool’s performance deserved, but manager Brendan Rodgers will surely be pleased that his side recorded another victory with their 1-0 win away to Sunderland on Saturday.

An early goal from forward Lazar Markovic was enough to seal the three points for the Reds, who were aided by midfielder Liam Bridcutt’s second-half red card.

So what have we learned from this tie?

Here, we select five talking points from Liverpool’s latest win.

 

Lucas Leiva’s Importance

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, November 4, 2014: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva during a training session at Melwood Training Grounds ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group B match against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)s

Continuing his Liverpool resurgence, midfielder Lucas Leiva was a standout candidate for man of the match on Saturday, with an assured display.

As outlined by an alarming statistic after the game, Lucas’ role this season has been integral:

While this may primarily serve as an indictment of fielding a specialist defensive midfielder, Lucas’ role cannot be underestimated.

Lucas made six tackles on Saturday, more than any other player, as well as two interceptions, breaking up play and, with one key pass to his name, also helping to create chances.

With reports surfacing after the game that Serie A side Inter Milan were stepping up their interest in Lucas this January, this performance serves as a timely reminder of what Liverpool will be missing.

Lucas may not be the most accomplished option, but he is currently Liverpool’s best defensive midfielder and a key component in Rodgers’ improved side this season.

 

Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can: Modern Centre-Backs?

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 17, 2014: Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho in action against Bournemouth during the Football League Cup 5th Round match at Dean Court. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

What was starkly apparent against Sunderland, and has been in recent weeks, was the upturn in fluidity of play involving Liverpool’s back line.

This can be attributed to the presence of Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can.

Rodgers’ system relies on building from the back, and too often this season the Reds’ progress has been stunted by uninspired passing from the likes of Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel.

Against Sunderland, both Sakho and Can were direct and precise in their passing, and both created dangerous moves for the Reds.

https://twitter.com/mephobia8/status/553908991706030082

Sakho posted a 95.3 per cent passing accuracy, while Can found his man 92.2 per cent of the time.

While it can be argued that Can’s best position—and his long-term role for Liverpool—is as a deep-lying midfielder, perhaps for now Liverpool have found the central defensive partnership that makes their system tick?

 

Lazar Markovic’s Growth

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gb6vPVJbH4

It was always going to take Markovic time to settle into life at his new club.

Since a pair of exciting cameos against FC Basel and Manchester United in December, Markovic has become a regular fixture in Rodgers’ starting line-up, and a starring performance on Saturday compounded this decision.

Markovic made four successful dribbles, second only to Philippe Coutinho of any player on Saturday, and obviously capped his display with a goal borne of sheer persistence.

Such was Markovic’s confidence that his acrobatic volley almost put Liverpool two up shortly after his first.

Liverpool fans should be encouraged that Markovic is just 20 years old, too, and it remains early days for the forward on Merseyside.

His performances can only improve as this growth continues.

 

Steven Gerrard’s Advanced Role is the Way Forward

To further highlight Lucas’ display, it can be argued that the midfielder wasn’t hampered by the presence of Steven Gerrard in an unnatural role alongside him.

Since Gerrard’s summer departure announcement, Rodgers has utilised the captain in a more advanced role, partnering Lucas with Jordan Henderson.

As a result of this, Gerrard’s form and influence have picked up.

https://twitter.com/ByTheMinSport/status/553897922442850304

Gerrard’s role in Markovic’s opening goal underlines how he is more effective in an advanced role, as his interplay with Fabio Borini helped negate the Sunderland defence.

Furthermore, Gerrard registered the joint-most crosses (3) of any Liverpool player, tied with Markovic, despite playing just 45 minutes.

Perhaps also encouraging is that Rodgers was happy to withdraw the midfielder, reportedly due to injury, when his former role was deemed indispensable.

 

Rodgers’ In-Game Management Still an Issue

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 10, 2015: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers during the Premier League match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While most takeaways from this result are positive, the decision to replace Gerrard with Lovren at half-time was a bizarre one from Rodgers.

Introducing Lovren, a high-profile summer signing in danger of becoming another expensive flop, forced Rodgers to alter his starting formation.

Can was brought forward into a midfield position, while Markovic’s original position in the midfield was altered.

While Can continued to impress, Markovic’s role—which saw him so devastating in the first half—was marginalised significantly; no longer able to charge at Sunderland’s defence from deep, Markovic was effectively annulled by Rodgers’ tactical tinkering.

https://twitter.com/Anfield_Oracle/status/553911090539954177

Furthermore, Lovren was fielded in an unnatural right- centre-back role, and evidently suffered.

On a day when the 17-year-old potential Gerrard successor, Jordan Rossiter, was included on Rodgers’ substitutes’ bench, and with Liverpool so confident in their dominance, it remains bemusing that the manager kept his precocious teenager on the bench.

Statistics via WhoScored.com.

Do you agree with our assessment of Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Sunderland? Let us know in the comments below.

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