Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Maxi Mascherano Gerrard Babel
Torres 3’ 60’
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.