Mascherano Skrtel Carragher Insua
Benayoun Gerrard Alonso Riera
What a relief.
Sbragia wasn’t kidding when he said he was going to shut up shop and make Liverpool break Sunderland down. It worked a treat for the first half, as has happened too often this season, but we finally saw some of the attacking prowess we’d hoped for in the second.
It took about three minutes for Liverpool to get out of their own half in a meaningful way, and as soon as Benayoun’s cutback from the byline was cut out, Jones was away. He easily sidestepped Skrtel and outpaced Carragher, but when one-on-one Reina, shot too close to the keeper.
It was better after that scare, as Liverpool realized how close they were to going behind (again), but the scoreline at halftime showed that it wasn’t good enough – plenty of possession, not a whole lot done with it. A couple of half-shouts for handball on blocked shots in the 7th and 8th, a Benayoun cross-cum-shot claimed by Fulop, and a deflected Riera strike that Fulop did well to parry at the near post in the 31st were the most memorable, but Jones’ chance in the 4th remained the best. And it remained Sunderland’s only chance.
Thankfully, this time, the cutting edge came back in the second half. And it was a sumptuous goal to open the scoring. Riera did brilliantly to get into space on the left, crossing into acres of space at the far post. Gerrard did brilliantly to rush on and head the ball to Ngog, who directed into the net for his first Premiership goal. He had the time to pick out the pass, but I’m still impressed with Gerrard’s vision. But I’m not surprised.
A couple of half-chances for Sunderland (a McCartney cross that was too high for Jones and Malbranque blasting over at the far post) bracketed an excellent opportunity for Insua, who was released by Riera’s nice throughball, but went for the shot and missed wide of the post, instead of centering for Kuyt or Ngog.
But despite those two forays forward for the away side, they offered less and less as the game went on. Sbragia sent on Cisse in the 62nd, which raised the usual fear of former players returning with a vengeance, but three minutes later, Liverpool sealed a much-needed and well-earned win. Ngog did very well to control after Alonso’s shot was blocked, and flicked the ball over his head into the danger area. Fulop could only palm the ball into the path of Benayoun, who made no mistake.
The second goal was a huge weight off the team’s back, and you could see it in their play. They looked miles more confident coming forward, and in the next five minutes, Riera shot over in space in the box after cutting in and Kuyt’s shot on target was blocked for a corner after defenders backed off him.
Unless Ngog’s cramp was worse than it looked, I don’t see why Benitez took him off for Lucas in the 70th. He had to be full of confidence after a goal and an assist, and he’s not likely to see much action when Torres returns. The team was playing well, and had scored two in 13 minutes. Meanwhile, Gerrard’s only recently back from injury (he went off for Babel in the 82nd) and Alonso’s played a ton of late. Odd, but it’s not like it changed the result.
Liverpool were more content to simply keep possession after Ngog went off, but chances continued to come. Alonso and Gerrard shot over, while Kuyt, Lucas, Babel and Riera tested Fulop. But it stayed at 2-0, for a fulfilling win that steadies the ship and will hopefully take some of the pressure off the players and manager.
Benayoun’s probably my man of the match for his goal, involvement in much of Liverpool’s attack, and willingness to take on defenders. I'm also tempted to pick Ngog, who was very impressive. His first touch wasn't the best, but his hold-up play was still excellent, while his movement and ability to bring others into play also stood out. Plus, he seems to have a trick in him, and Liverpool could always use more of that.
Riera was also threatening, Alonso was miles better than on Saturday, and the defense never looked like conceding outside the early scare. In addition, Mascherano was awesome at right back, but given his pedigree, I don’t know why I’m surprised. I’m not suggesting a permanent move, because he’s even better as a holding midfielder, but he filled the role more than ably. His engine and pace for a recovery tackle suit the position perfectly, and we know he’s an outstanding defender.
That was exactly what Liverpool needed. By the end, it was a comprehensive win, but the team had to work for it. It really was a much-improved second half – they finally got the goal-scoring monkey off their backs, and did it with two stylish goals. Now, a week off before two crucial games: Madrid next Tuesday and United four days later.