Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Plessis Benayoun
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Torres gets one chance, after 83 minutes of play, and makes absolutely no mistake with it. Until that point, it looked like another unconvincing display and draw away from home to start the season.
There’s little to write about the first half. Sunderland started brighter, and was the better side for the first 30 minutes. A mistake by Hyypia nearly put Diouf through in the 5th, only for Carragher to recover well, and Murphy had a free header in the 13th (after Diouf should have never got a cross off), but hit it straight at Reina, who spilled it, but no one was around to capitalize.
Liverpool improved as the half went on, as Gerrard saw more of the ball, but only two moments stood out. Benayoun should have had a penalty in the 34th when Wiley waved play on after Gerrard was fouled, but once Yossi was pushed over in the box, the ref blew for a free kick (which Gerrard sent straight into the wall). In the 43rd minute, we saw some of Keane’s potential when he excellently controlled at the top of the box only to miss narrowly wide with a left-footed shot.
The second half was better, with Alonso on for Plessis at halftime (the Frenchman supposedly picked up a back injury) and Liverpool increasingly in control, but it was still frustrating for long periods. Until the goal, Liverpool’s best chance was foiled when Keane, off all people, prevented Torres from tapping in the rebound after Gordon saved Kuyt’s deflected shot.
But, in an almost carbon copy of Torres’ equalizer at Boro last season, he picked the ball up in the opposition half (after a nice pass from Alonso), strode forward, and unleashed a low rocket into the bottom corner. Once again, Liverpool gets the winner in the last 15 minutes, and once again, it’s Fernando Torres. One chance, one goal.
Torres’ goal will end up obscuring a few things. First and foremost, Liverpool cannot play 4-4-2 with Kuyt and Benayoun on the flanks, especially when a team like Sunderland is content to congest the middle in their own half. Just like on Wednesday, it led to too many long balls hoofed forward and very few chances on goal. Kuyt works best on the right against teams like United and Chelsea where his workrate helps Liverpool break up the opposition. When he’s up against a team that’s happy to defend, he can be a liability. So far, this season is making me miss the 4-2-3-1, but the Olympics haven’t helped that.
Secondly, concerns will be raised over the Torres/Keane pairing, and rightfully so. Neither was winning headers against Nosworthy or Collins, and the incident when they got in each other’s way was an absolute farce. Both are excellent players, and I still think they can form a good partnership, but I also fear that the goal today shows Torres is better as a lone striker.
In addition, I was not happy with Arbeloa. Kuyt’s iffy play on the right didn’t help, but Arbeloa rarely, if ever, provided any overlap, seemed unwilling to go too far forward, and picked up some unnecessary fouls, including a rash yellow card. I did think that Dossena was better on the other flank, especially in his defensive positioning (compared to the match against Standard Liege).
I have to give Torres man of the match simply for the goal, but Alonso was also up there. His entrance was the turning point, even if it took almost 40 more minutes to break the deadlock. Xabi was key to Liverpool being able to keep possession, he looked for diagonal passes instead of long balls simply hoofed forward, set up Torres’ goal, and nearly scored another from his own half when he spotted Gordon off his line. So much for the 'Alonso wants to leave' talk.
I also thought that aside from the error in the 5th minute, Hyypia did well. Benitez used him for his aerial presence, and it paid off in the first half when Sunderland was threatening. It’s nice to see that Sami can still step in and do a job when needed.
For all the complaints, all that matters is the result. Sunderland will continue to be tough to beat at home, and in the end, Liverpool leaves with a win. This should restore some confidence, as was hoped, and was never going to be an easy game. There’s clearly room for progression, and it’s worth noting that Liverpool misses Babel, Lucas and Mascherano. The scintillating football will come. Three points will do for this one.
Next match is a week from today against Boro at Anfield.