29 September 2013

Liverpool 3-1 Sunderland

Sturridge 28'
Suarez 36' 89'
Giaccherini 52'

So who wants to cite the 'Liverpool win more matches when Suarez doesn't start' statistic that's been doing the rounds? Lies, damned lies…

As in the previous matches, Liverpool weren't great, Liverpool weren't especially fluent, and the link between midfield and attack remained pretty much nonexistent. Sunderland took more shots, played more attacking third passes, and pressured effectively until fatigue set in late in the second half, making sure that the ball spent more time in Liverpool's half.

But Suarez's goals and Suarez's combination play with Sturridge made sure that Liverpool won because Suarez makes Liverpool's counter-attack immeasurably better. Three league goals for the first time this season, the first second-half goal of the season. It really is no coincidence those happened in Suarez's first league game after his suspension.

Liverpool's opener came from a set play, the subsequent two from lightning counters. Sturridge's goal was slightly fortunate, directing Gerrard's corner past Larsson on the line and into the net with his arm. Both counter-attacks were glorious: Gerrard's long pass and Sturridge's wonderful control leading to the first, Mignolet's quick distribution and Suarez and Sturridge's combination play leading to the second.

But in between, Liverpool were often pinned back, partly by design, partly due to formation. Again lining up in the 3-4-1-2 we saw against United, Liverpool got bodies back in defense and looked to counter quickly, but there was still little coordination between defense and attack, little of the patient passing we became used to last season. Lucas and Gerrard were often over-run by the Larsson/Ki/Cattermole trio, and as in every match we've seen so far, Liverpool's opponent pressed effectively to deny the opportunity to build from the back. It really is no coincidence Liverpool had better chances – and that Liverpool scored – when bypassing the midfield.

Individually, neither midfielder played badly. Gerrard's glorious long range pass set up Liverpool's second, his set plays constantly threatened, and he did get forward more often than in previous matches. Lucas was again crucial in defense, with five tackles and three interceptions, completing 90% of his passes. It's the partnership, the way they play together, which has become so concerning.

And it's a good thing that Liverpool impressed on counter-attacks and set plays because Liverpool rarely looked like scoring from possession-based open play. In fact, I'm struggling to think of any good opportunity which came from one of those situations. Skrtel had an early goal ruled out for offside from a Gerrard free kick, Suarez chested down and shot wide from a Gerrard corner, Westwood saved Moses' blast after a Gerrard free kick and then denied Toure's rocket after the defender won the ball in Sunderland's half. Liverpool were utterly reliant on set plays and transitional play, and not for the first time. I don't know the answer with Allen and Coutinho injured and Henderson needed at right wing-back, but I do know that the question about Liverpool's midfield needs to be asked.

At least the formation did its job by limiting Sunderland's ability to punish Liverpool.

24 tackles, 54 clearances, nine blocks, seven interceptions, six blocked crosses. Aside from one shot spilled by Mignolet, where no defender reacted to a possible rebound – probably because every single person in the universe expected Mignolet to smother, as he's smothered pretty much everything else – Liverpool's defensive shell again worked excellently. Toure and Sakho were especially impressive, doing well to blunt Altidore's burly effectiveness.

23 shots was Sunderland's highest total in nearly two years. But 15 of them came from outside the box, only five were on target. Just three of those 15 shots from outside the box forced Mignolet into action. Yes, one led to Sunderland's lone goal, but Liverpool's last season demonstrated that taking lots and lots of shots doesn't necessarily translate to lots and lots of goals, especially if most of those shots come from long range. Sunderland's shooting accuracy was 21.7%. Liverpool's was 40%. None of Liverpool's three goals came from further than 10 yards out.

This is the fourth match in a row where Sunderland's conceded three goals. Today's margin of defeat is marginally unfair on the home side's effort and play, but that's still quite the auspicious streak.

Liverpool will face tighter defenses and Liverpool will face better midfields who press even more effectively. While today saw an improved performance in most regards, and Suarez does make a massive difference to Liverpool's competence in attack, there are still some glaring problems to fix.

To be fair, they're glaring problems to fix with Liverpool sat in second place. Which remains an awful lot better than the alternative.


Marlon said...

When is Glen Johnson supposed to be back? His play on the flank seems to take a lot of pressure off the midfield and I think his absence has shown in how Liverpool have played.

Zētētikos said...

Even though he didn't touch the ball in the lead up to the third goal, I think Hendo deserves a mention. He busts a gut getting himself in front of the ball on the break and then, once in the box, effectively pulls one of the defenders out of the way to open up space for Suarez to drop in and receive Sturridge's pass. The third goal was a great collective effort.

drew said...

They're also glaring problems to fix with Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and West Brom on the horizon. God willing and the Creek don't rise, we'll be sorted out somewhat and much healthier by the time we see Arsenal.

nate said...

Completely agree with all three comments. And also love the expression "God willing and the Creek don't rise."

Johnson should be back by West Brom on October 26th, maybe even Newcastle the week before.

J8W said...

Sterling seemed more effective (and closer to GJ) at right wing back. It would be interesting to see him get a start at that position.

Henderson was extremely frustrating. His energy is obviously high, but it didn't seem like he fit the role well.

SIVVA said...

Hope BR stop tinkering with the system to allow the players a chance to settle down.Also need not talk too much during pre and post match and unnecessarily raising hope.Final pass need to improve.Meanwhile will enjoy looking at LFC current standing in the table.Nice write up Nate!

Anonymous said...

Well, that was a match recap that seems right in line with your median effort; which is to say: brilliant.
This was an encouraging result, although the opposition was, you know...

I think Gerrard's passing was better in part because of more viable outlets, and Studge's seemingly improved pace and willingness to make committed runs at somewhere near full speed.

Now we really need Stevie to be more active still, and some fullback f-ing fitness, and I will be well chuffed at the team's prospects, in the intermediate and long term.

I personally thought Hendy played pretty well, and likely performed at about twice the level I would expect from Wisdom or whoever else may have been fit.

So, considering the health of the squad, I think Rodgers is doing quite well. He has adopted a gameplan that at the very least is allowing the best players to be on the pitch together as much as fitness and suspension allow. He messes up sometimes, but tends to be good enough to fix the problems as long as he has enough quality available. I think the changes to formation according to specific limitations gives the club the best chance to win most matches. He could manage the captain's minutes better, but at least the fitness regimen they have had him on is working as far as his health is concerned. I know he has been under-performing, even egregiously in a match or two following England duty.

Last season gives me some confidence, false or no, that Stevie G will regain his form, hopefully somewhere near the level he played at during the win against ManU featuring gollum.

Let us see a full strength team for a lengthy-ish stretch, please. When that happens, Liverpool will probably be shifting into another gear. I am looking forward to that time, whilst savoring the deservedly mildly optimistic atmosphere surrounding the club.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah, almost forgot. I am getting pretty frustrated with Enrique. Rather, I remain frustrated with Uncle Biceps, and hope Aly can play well enough to usurp him soon after his return from injury.

Do you think Moses can adapt to that central role, or is Rodgers best served getting him out wide as much as possible?