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.