28 March 2010

Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Maxi Mascherano Gerrard Babel
Kuyt Torres

Torres 3’ 60’
Johnson 32’

Well, that was a game for less than 180 seconds thanks to the irrepressible genius of Fernando Torres with what will surely be goal of the season and the team’s best half of football in months. So much for Steve Bruce’s league voodoo over Benitez. It’s no exaggeration to suggest Liverpool could have had five by the 20th minute, and had Sunderland been able to find the ball, the profligacy and Gordon’s saves might have worried.

But with Liverpool maintaining something along the lines of 75% possession in the first half, the away side never had a chance to equalize, and couldn’t even fashion a shot on goal until the 55th. Soon after the half-hour mark, Johnson provided the second, his third for the club and first since September, with his second lefty goal from outside the box. Torres’ first strike, however, will take some beating: cutting in from the left between Turner and Cana and curling into the far corner from the edge of the box. Just jaw-dropping.

Outside of the goals, all supremely taken, this entire review could be a list of chances spurned. That Agger, a defender, had three in the first half – a volley saved in the first minute and a header and shot narrowly wide – demonstrates how many in red pushed up. The interplay between Kuyt, Maxi, Torres, Babel, and Gerrard was picturesque, pouring forward in tandem and switching positions as we haven’t seen in nearly a year.

Torres should have added at least one more five minutes before halftime. Yet again camped in Sunderland’s half, Insua’s cross found Kuyt at the back post, and while Babel missed contact with the knock-back, Torres didn’t. But, evidently, he actually is human. His first effort cannoned off the post and he scuffed the rebound wide. But with Liverpool two to the good, legends like Rush, Kenny, and Thommo could only laugh in the director’s box.

After scoring the second, Liverpool were far more content to repress Sunderland and try to tear them apart on the counter. Bruce actually took off his favorite midfielder, the water-carrier (and invisible) Cattermole, at halftime, and for 15 minutes, Sunderland actually tried to get into Liverpool’s half, helped by bringing on Jones and shifting to 4-3-3. But then Torres struck again, provided by the other goal-scorer, and that truly was game over.

Once again, it was a team goal created by getting men forward. Insua to Rodriguez to Johnson to Torres, with the striker turning it in with defenders on the ground after Johnson’s clever disguised pass.

And a 30-minute light training session followed the hour-long match, with Liverpool playing keep ball and Sunderland unable to find a consolation. In fact, Sunderland’s only other shot on target came with less than 90 seconds left, the substitute Zenden’s long-range effort pushed around the post. But Liverpool rarely looked for a fourth, with Aquilani, Ngog, and El Zhar replacing Kuyt, Torres, and Gerrard.

The opposition’s lack of, well, much of anything makes it hard to draw firm conclusions. But this is exactly what we’d hoped for: a 3-0 hammering that could have been far wider. The attack worked a treat, with Torres having much more support in this formation, able to drag defenders wide by taking up space in the left channel in the knowledge that others would soon arrive. Kuyt was an out-and-out, if deep-lying, striker, while Babel and Maxi spent so much time in the final third I could have drawn it up as 4-2-4. And at the same time, we finally saw an interested and rampaging Gerrard.

Special mention also goes out to Johnson and Agger, whose attacking prowess was evident today. Johnson scored one and set up another, while Agger could have had a hat trick. They – along with Insua – spent as much time in Sunderland’s half as their own, to excellent effect. It won’t work in every match – this was lower-tier opposition at Anfield and for all the other failings this season, Liverpool’s often done well in these games, in contrast to the debilitating home draws last season. But it sure was nice to see today. And while Sunderland had next to nothing in attack, it was nice to see Insua stand out. Sunderland played both Bent and Campbell out wide at times, trying to test the struggling youngster with pace. It didn’t work once.

All week long we’ve been talking about how Liverpool just needs to win their games. There’s nothing the team can do about Spurs, City, and Villa other than hope they keep dropping points. And a trip to Birmingham, another bogey side, comes in a week, after a difficult European away against Benfica. The woods are still deep, dark, and foreboding, and Liverpool’s nowhere near out of them.

But keep doing this and I absolutely believe fourth place will go down to the last day.


Mike Georger said...

Would like to see the formation of only one holding player in every other league game outside of Chelsea. You have to attack Birmingham, have to. Even if it's not Aquliani we can't revert back to Lucas and Masche for the games we have to win.

Was really impressed with Agger today, good to see him getting forward again. Good to see El Zhar back as well, even if he has the worst haircut in the game, someone needs to do something about that thing.

nate said...

Pretty sure it'll be Lucas/Masch on Thursday, necessary given Benfica's strength in attack. How that game goes will massively influence Sunday's line-up, especially since Sunday's away from Anfield. But in theory, I agree with you re: Brum team selection.

Mike Georger said...

Oh I was thinking just in the league games, but yeah I expect Lucas to play Thursday too.

nate said...

Okay, I'm monopolizing the comments, but there's one thing I wanted to add and forgot. Might turn into a full post tomorrow or Tuesday, but feel the need to mention it now.

I need to apologize to Ryan Babel, who deserves a lot of credit for recent games. But I don't take back what I wrote pre-January.

The difference is in Babel's game, and I'm hopeful (and believe) that it's down to his discussions with Benitez during the transfer window.

Babel's been Babel in attack, if more consistent when starting. But the key - the reason he's been playing games - is that he's learned how to track back. It was even evident today. Sunderland offered next to nothing, but Babel always got back to defend, even taking up positions behind Insua when Sunderland's fullbacks rarely overlapped.

I cannot overemphasize how important that is. Important to Liverpool, and important to Babel's career.

I'm not much for turning points, especially this season, but this seemingly has been one. And maybe it'll help dispel the illusion of Rafa's poor man-management.

drew said...

Good game, that. Security sweep was tight today as I think they were pawing everyone for inflatables, lot of people were barely in their seats for the Torres strike.

It's about time we ripped Steve Bruce apart; other than that seven goal tonking we gave him in the cup a few years back this has been coming for a while. The songs today were great--could people hear the ones about his beachball head?

Mike Georger said...

Babel definitely seems like one of the guys that can be really impacted by a manager's treatment. At the best, this run of form suggests he has a real future with the team. Worst, this run of form inflates his transfer price.

One of the things I liked about how we played today is that it seemed everyone behind Torres was switching positions. Sure Dirk isn't exactly a left sided player, but having four attackers in midfield/hole positions allows them to be closer together and switch up more, as opposed to just occupying their own respective third when there are two holds behind.

And honestly, I thought Masche had one of his best games of the season even though he was playing alone.

steven. said...

Drew -- i thought it was just the standard big fat head song .. didn't pick up anything about a beach ball but that is quite funny ..

Anonymous said...

When Reds play like that, there's really not much anyone can do to stop them.

It's all down to belief and confidence right? Now to instill that when the team plays the likes of Chelseas, Mancs, Blaugranas and the Madrids.

Seriously, we're not in any shortage of talent at the moment. And does anyone still begs for Benitez' head after the game?