13 August 2011

Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland

Goals:
Suarez 12'
Larsson 57'

First half: new Liverpool. Second half: old Liverpool. Result: old Liverpool. Sigh.

Rampant – utterly rampant – in the first half, Sunderland were infinitely lucky to only be behind by a goal after 45 minutes. The away side should have been down to 10 men with less than seven off the clock: Suarez blocked Richardson's ill-judged clearance and charged toward goal. The left-back's sole recourse was to pull Suarez down while he was in the process of rounding the keeper. Somehow, Dowd saw it as no more than a yellow – my hypothesis is that he's too much of a coward to send someone off in the opening minutes of the opening game – and to compound matters, the Uruguayan blasted the spot kick over the Anfield Road end.

But five minutes later, Suarez proved you can't keep a good man down, easily beating Richardson to Adam's blistering free kick (which he won), stooping a header in at the near post. For the next half an hour, it looked as if Liverpool could choose its own scoreline. Dowd again demonstrated why he's one of Liverpool fans' favorites, disallowing a perfectly good Carroll goal simply because Wes Brown is too clumsy to stay upright. Adam blasted from distance straight at Mignolet, Downing blasted off the bar after torching three defenders with a jackknife run down the right.

Then came the second half and the inevitable regression toward the mean once unable to turn dominance in play into dominance in the score line. As usual, all it took was one sloppy, schoolboy defensive mistake coupled with some opposition brilliance that the player will never, ever replicate.

Larsson had the beating of Flanagan throughout the second half, and that Dalglish started him instead of Kelly is one of the most-pressing post-match questions. Sunderland's plan was clear – unsettle the youngster and unsettle him quickly. Higher pressure led to the first opportunity: caught in possession and undressed by Larsson, Flanagan could only thank Gyan for directing his header straight at Reina. Three minutes later, Flanagan was caught ball-watching the opposite flank, letting Larsson wander into space at the back post. It still required an audacious acrobatic volley to level arrears. There's just something about Liverpool which encourages wonder goals from the opposition. They should probably figure out how to stop that.

From there, Liverpool were on tilt, completely disjointed by the cruel hand of fate. After stemming the initial tide, featuring Sessegnon's blast over the bar after Carragher backed off, Liverpool turned to its wily, displaced veterans. Kuyt replaced the increasingly ineffective Henderson before Meireles came on for a spent Suarez. Liverpool remained in the 4-2-2-2 with Kuyt initially on the left before moving up top; Downing, who had spent the second half on the right until that point, went left with Meireles filling Henderson's narrow berth. Despite three months to work on Plan Bs, Liverpool's ideas were limited to more and more hoofs in the direction of Carroll regardless of the fact that Sunderland were clearly content to see out the draw. As Georger immediately pointed out on Twitter, Liverpool hoofed pre-Carroll and Liverpool will only be more prone to hoofing with him. It was simply more disconcerting because we saw next to none of the "tactic" in the first half. Sunderland had the lone chance to win in dying seconds, spurned by Cattermole (of all players) on the counter.

So, meet the new season, same as the old season. It's like Liverpool's opener last year – conceding a soft (and very late) equalizer to Arsenal at home – and the Liverpool/Sunderland Anfield match – where Sunderland came back from an early goal to get a barely undeserved draw. Depressingly, both those games came under the previous manager.

With Suarez back in the side, Liverpool reverted to the 4-2-2-2 we saw most often in the run-in. The Uruguayan floated everywhere in the final third, attacking the closest defender in proximity, while Downing stuck wide left and Henderson tucked in on the right. Liverpool moved the ball with pace, ran at the opposition, and never took their eyes off Sunderland's goal. At times, it was more impressive than in the Birmingham and Fulham demolitions.

But Liverpool couldn't seal the deal. Suarez was lightning despite missing his spot kick but faded quickly. Similar goes for Adam: so important in the first half but increasingly marginal and marginalized as the game went on. Somehow, with more hoofs, Carroll became more isolated; he looked the most likely to notch Liverpool's second in that buoyant first half. And most impressively, Enrique fit in immediately despite joining the team yesterday.

But legs tired, ideas narrowed and waned, Lucas – so crucial to Liverpool's rearguard – also bore the scars of a long Copa America, and Flanagan made his first costly mistake (that penalty concession against Tottenham doesn't count because that wasn't a penalty, Howard). That Liverpool would fire into the new campaign so perfectly seems implausible in retrospect, but that first half sent hopes into the stratosphere.

At least the first half shows this side's remarkably high ceiling. You know, if new Liverpool can exorcise the ghosts of old Liverpool sooner rather than later.

13 comments:

archduke_franz said...

honestly, the first half was so encouraging in terms of the players (especially downing and adam) driving towards goal with intent and ideas, it helps heal the scars from watching hodgsonpool last year. the second half collapse and 1-1 result was somewhat disappointing but in general it was more of a relief for me than anything.

Ryan said...

Someone on Twitter, I think it was Rory Smith---ugh, but whatever---was saying the players might not be fully fit. It makes some sense, I think. I know, no one's fully fit at this point in the season, but Sunderland did look fresher in the second half. Maybe that's because they didn't have much of the ball in the first half, but it's an interesting point ... at least.

I'm trying to figure out why we were so much worse in the second half, other than: That's football! I don't think Bruce did anything different tactically, so I find myself coming back to the fitness argument.

Then again, if one of these things---Suarez's pk, Dowd sending off Richardson, or Dowd allowing Carroll's goal---goes our way, we win in a walk.

Deflating that it ended 1-1, but reason to be confident going forward.

Keith C said...

I know this is likely to receive an eye-roll from nate, but it's pretty disappointing that Aquilani can't even make the bench. Some creativity and ball retention around the 70th minute (well before then, actually) would have been awfully nice...

Otherwise, I'm not too angry. Liverpool were quite unlucky not to be up 2-0 heading into the break, and Sunderland clamped down in the second. Getting three next weekend is a definite possibility, as Arsenal didn't look all that threatening against Newcastle, and they'll be without Gervinho.

nate said...

Ryan:

May have a point about Sunderland's fitness – during match, I assumed it was because of being on front foot (and Sunderland expending relatively less energy) as you wrote, but there might be something in the fitness argument. Def true for likes of Suarez and Lucas. Dunno how 'rigorous' Sunderland's preseason schedule was in comparison but they'd didn't have any starters in Copa America at least.

Tactically, I thought Sunderland pressed more effectively in the second half (specifically on Adam, and fullbacks to a lesser extent) and did well to isolate Larsson against Flanagan, helped by removing Flanno's safety blanket (Carra) with runs by Gyan and Sessegnon.

nate said...

Oh and re: Keith C's Aquilani suggestion. Bound to be brought up, and in theory, he could have helped immensely. Like with Aurelio, Liverpool just hoof less when he's in the squad and Adam had run out of steam. But I just can't get over the 'dunno if Dalglish wants him/dunno if he wants to be at club' thing.

archduke_franz said...

perhaps a desire to play and perform for the club is essential. seems like if aquilani was really trying to leave the club it makes him a dramatically less useful player. maybe my memories of torres sulking around the pitch bitching at the ref are too recent and raw for me to consider otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Downing played well, Enrique was solid at the back but didn't offer any good passing or anything attack-wise, Henderson doesn't understand the 'move' part of 'pass and move'. Adam wasn't very good apart from dead ball stuff, but he should have taken the penalty. Flanagan just isn't good enough. Carroll did all he could. Meireles should have come on for Adam, he isn't a striker. Lucas was our best player out there. Shame Aquilani wasnt on the bench too, he could have offered something late on. So so disappointed.

john said...

While I knew it was a possibility, I was pretty surprised to not see Kuyt in the starting lineup. What does a Dutchman have to do to get some love? That guy might not be the purest of finishers, but, good grief, he has contributed a lot to Liverpool over the years.

dah_sab said...

I don't really want to defend Dowd, but Suarez was moving away from goal after a heavy touch, and Richardson more clumsily got in the way than hauled him down. In just this particular instance, Dowd wasn't a coward so much as overly cautious. He later mistake on Carroll's disallowed goal, though, was more like the Dowd we know & love.

When we bought Jose Enrique my first reaction was why are we buying fullbacks when we have Kelly, Flanagan & Jack Robinson? What happened to giving young players a chance? And then Flanagan fell asleep for their goal & I thought, "Oh, OK, buying a fullback isn't such a bad idea then." I feel bad for the kid, but he was poor in the 2nd half, & Kelly should've started.

We did enough to offer plenty of hope for the coming weeks. Get Carroll a first goal, put Kuyt & Meireles back on the field, & we'll see. Downing looked a fantastic buy in the 1st half, regadless of whether he puts crosses in for Carroll. More of that dribble & shoot please.

I, too, think Aquilani should be on the field if he's going to stay. Sitting him is wasting a tremendous talent, but I fear only a few of us feel that way. He could be so productive next to Lucas.

Call me a heretic, but I fear for our midfield integrity when Gerrard comes back. He should only play behind Carroll, otherwise he causes his teammates to do too much work when he's out of position.

Anonymous said...

Surprised that Enrique got hardly forward at all,even when we were dominating.Seems like he was under strict instructions from Kenny not to cross the half line or something..Wonder why that was?

solidcitizen said...

Thought Flanagan was atrocious. Not only on the goal, but several bad passes out of the back and several near misses.

Hope it was fitness in the second half. There seemed to be moments when Liverpool were not hustling on kicks and throw-ins late in the game. Kuyt and Lucas were throwing looks at their new teammates on too frequent of a basis in the final 10 minutes. There definitely seemed to be a lack of urgency or push to get the winner.

Anonymous said...

I thought Enrique and Carol showed a lack of hustle in the final 10 minutes... sick of everyone sighting fitness as an issue.. they are all in their 20s and getting paid millions... they should all be able to give it 100% for the 90+minutes.

Also, Carol does not fit with Suarez period. So many times Suarez looks for a quick one-two and Carol decides to hold or pass back instead of attack.

Gunit said...

"Flanagan just isn't good enough"

I disagree, he had to cover all the stuff (including Gyan) coming through an AWOL Henderson. Where as Enrique had Downing ahead of him.