Finnan Carra Hyypia Arbeloa
Pennant Sissoko Alonso Babel
Another 3 points, another good away win. And it’s even more heartening a win because of how hard Sunderland made Liverpool work for it.
After Voronin nearly got a goal before a minute was off the clock thanks to a lazy Sunderland back pass (and were only saved by Craig Gordon’s heroics, which set a tone for the day), the home side did very well to close down space and make the game frenetic for the first 35 minutes. Neither team looked settled, and changes had to be rung for both sides early on, with Agger coming on for Hyypia after 15 minutes because of a nosebleed, and Stokes on for Sunderland with Richardson off the pace.
But in the 37th minute, Momo Sissoko broke the deadlock. Yes, that Momo Sissoko, who scored his first goal for Liverpool, and who’s now the proud owner of Liverpool’s 7,000th goal. Every now and then, I’m forced to eat my words on this blog. Rarely am I so happy to do so. And it was a great goal too; Alonso’s long diagonal ball found Pennant, who headed it back to Voronin, who laid it off for Sissoko to beautifully hammer low into the corner.
After the goal, Liverpool looked a lot better, and Sunderland rarely got out of their own half for the final few minutes. In first half injury time, Torres had a chance to make it 2-0, but it was a difficult header to get off, and once again, Craig Gordon was there for the save.
As with both the Villa and Chelsea games, when Liverpool was unable to get the second goal, the opposition grew in stature and made it nervy at times. This wasn’t helped by an injury to Carragher in the 68th minute, when Reina put a knee in his midsection while punching the ball out. It took nearly 10 minutes to get Carragher off the pitch, and Liverpool was forced to adjust to both the starting center backs out. Chopra and Stokes played well, but Liverpool rarely looked like conceding a second, even if Sunderland saw a lot more possession and had chances to make something from set plays.
Liverpool seemed content to sit deeper, let the game come to them, and create opportunities on the counter. But unlike the last couple of seasons when Liverpool sat back, they still looked like getting a second and looked dangerous on the break. And Liverpool did create chances, even more than in the first half. Torres popped up on nearly every long ball, although his finishing wasn’t the best and Craig Gordon had an absolute stunner, making something like 7 saves. All too often, players seemed to shoot too close to the keeper, but Gordon has to be credited for his positioning and the saves he made.
Sunderland, on the other hand, even with increased possession, rarely carved out chances, and an equalizer would have been incredibly unfair. But it’s always a possibility when you can’t get the second goal.
However, that goal finally came in the 87th minute. On yet another counter attack, Babel brought the ball out of defense on the right, played a neat one-two with Pennant, and slid the ball over to Torres, who unselfishly found Voronin on the left. Voronin, who like Torres had earlier chances, made no mistake with the finish low to the far post, which Gordon got a touch to but couldn’t keep out.
That Liverpool was able to get a second puts more gloss on the performance, but I’m still happy with many of the players. Sissoko was the man of the match. There was the goal of course, and his usual hustling workrate, but he also was a lot more composed today (especially with his touch), and was a good outlet on the counter with his speed. Some of the game passed him by, with a lot of play bypassing the midfield, especially in the 2nd half, but in the first half, Momo was simply fantastic.
Along with Sissoko, Pennant was the other outstanding player. He routinely made himself a threat down the right, saw a lot of ball, and looked to both beat his man inside and get to the byline. There were moments where he lost possession in situations he shouldn’t, and he still needs to attack the goal more often, but there was a lot encouraging about his performance, and from how he’s played, it’s little surprise he’s cemented himself as a regular starter.
Torres looked very good at times, but his finishing left something to be desired. Gordon played well and had his number all day long, but Torres had four or five good opportunities, only to see Gordon make a save. One moment stood out, and shows how dangerous Torres can be. In the 51st minute, Torres got the ball in the middle of the pitch and burst through two defenders to have a one-on-one with the keeper, only for Gordon to make another save. But the potential was clearly there, and there will be times this season when Torres creates something out of absolutely nothing and jaws hit the floor.
Voronin also looked good partnering him, again showed his cleverness and strength (be very wary of playing back passes around him), and took the second goal very well. But too often he looked to be too clever, and the tricks didn’t come off. However, it’s still early days, and that trickery will come in handy when players begin to gel better.
Arbeloa also impressed, and is getting dangerously close to falling into the same ‘criminally underrated’ category that Finnan’s in. He’s becoming the first-choice left back, which he certainly wasn’t advertised as when he signed, and covered well in central defense after Carragher’s injury.
I was a bit disappointed by Babel, although I’m still pleased he started. This was a tough game for new players, and that was best exemplified by Babel and Torres’ performances. At times Babel was invisible, and despite some good touches was lacking in end product, but when all’s said and done, this will be good experience for the rest of the season.
Even though there were times where Liverpool should have done better, this is a very encouraging performance and a very encouraging result. 7 points from 3 games, including two tough away wins, is about as good as could be expected (although 9 points would have been a lot better).
There’s little more that could be asked for from this game, especially with how hard Sunderland made Liverpool work, which is a credit to Roy Keane. Another away win, another good team performance even with rotation and Gerrard missing. New players continued to get time and settle, and the much-discussed good start to the season is still on track. Hopefully, Carragher’s injury, the only blight on the day, isn’t too serious. Now to seal Champions League qualification on Tuesday, and continue the pace in the league home against Derby on Saturday.