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
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:
Liverpool's form in the Premier League this season:
When Lucas Leiva has played: WLWWWDDWWDW
When Lucas Leiva hasn't played: LWLDWDLLLL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 10, 2015
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?
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.
Sakho makes 50 yards and picks the right pass to set up the chance. Can't play though.
— David Martinez (@DMARTINEZ_85) January 10, 2015
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
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.
Hahahahaha, how about this reaction from Wickham after Markovic' amazing bicycle kick half volley. https://t.co/xqjJZHgNQ5
— ?Mentality Giants?? (@RedsOrDead) January 10, 2015
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.
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
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.
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.