02 January 2017

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Sturridge 19'
Defoe 25' [pen] 84' [pen]
Mané 72'

In retrospect, obvious trap game is obvious. Playing less than 48 hours after your last match is not fun.

To be fair, Sunderland were under the same constraints, albeit at home after an away match last time. And with even fewer possible changes given their unbelievably long injury list. Of course, Sunderland also saved their energy at Burnley after getting absolutely annihilated from the opening whistle.

Maybe some rotation would have helped. We all were sure surprised when Liverpool's XI was announced, the only change an enforced one, Sturridge replacing the injured Jordan Henderson. Yeah, Klopp's not a big fan of rotating his side. Yeah, Liverpool's bench – Karius, Origi, Moreno, Lucas, Stewart, Alexander-Arnold, and Ejaria – didn't offer many options. Still.

Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are two different things. And both exist. Physically, Liverpool were okay, or at least as okay as is possible with matches in quick succession. Mentally, Liverpool were not. "Mentally" is absolutely the reason why Liverpool conceded both goals, both incredibly unnecessary penalties to have given away.

That said, this is going to be an apex "stats lie" game. Total shots, shots on-target, expected goals, possession, etc etc. Mannone made 15 saves. Sunderland created only four chances from open play, three leading to shots from outside the box, the other immediately blocked. Sunderland needed two penalties to get the draw.

It's misleading. Liverpool only scored twice because of Sunderland's defending on corners. Mannone made some good saves but a lot of those shots were tame or from long range or both. Mignolet twice saved excellent Sunderland opportunities, especially when stealing the ball off a through-on-goal Jermain Defoe two minutes after Sunderland equalized. Sunderland could have had a third penalty for a fairly obvious Emre Can handball.

Liverpool weren't good. Liverpool still probably should have won, but it was a lot closer than it seemed, despite Sunderland's luck and Liverpool's errors. And I can't help but blame fatigue, more mental than physical.

Credit where due. Sunderland actually are a much better side, if only relatively speaking, at home. Sunderland didn't look a side missing nine potential starters through injury, most of them certain. Sunderland didn't look a side that played just 48 hours ago. It's no secret that Liverpool struggle when their pressed in their own half in games such as these; see: Burnley, Bournemouth. It's one thing when Manchester City does it, because Liverpool are a lot more defensive and a lot more compact. It's another when Liverpool want and expect to attack attack attack and are wide open more often than a pervert's trench coat.

So Liverpool struggled to get into an early rhythm. There were one or two nice passing moves, Sturridge looked threatening, but Sunderland came at Liverpool. Like Burnley did, like Bournemouth did. And I can't help by beginning my litany of complaints with the one change to Liverpool's holding midfielder and center-back trio.

Emre Can did not look comfortable. That shouldn't have been that much of a surprise given how he's played this season: as a tank rolling downhill, charging around, charging forward, capable of rolling in the wrong direction but usually just get out of his way. You can not do that in the holding role. So Liverpool are exposed more than you'd rightfully expect, Liverpool are misplacing and misplaying passes when transitioning to attack, and Liverpool aren't really getting the ball forward enough.

But then Liverpool strike from a set play, through Sturridge, the type of goal that Liverpool conceded far too often last season and earlier in this. Lovren misplays an attempted volley but Sturridge is far quickest to the second ball as Sunderland fail to react, a lovely cushioned header looping over Mannone. Okay. You've got your goal. Just do smart things and be patient and be good and we'll all be fine.


Six minutes later, the score's level, thanks to Can mis-controlling a pass from Klavan, Ndong getting around Wijnaldum from the throw-in, and Klavan's wholly unnecessary and frankly stupid penalty, late to hang a leg out with Lallana right there to cover. Sigh. Mignolet goes the right way, but Defoe's spot kick is too good, because that's what Defoe does.

And then it's the tilt thing that Liverpool are too prone to. "Oh hell, we screwed up, we can't screw up, crap we screwed up again." Almost immediately, Can's misplaced pass, Can not tracking Ndong, Klavan caught flat-footed when not sure whether to follow (an offside) Ndong or Defoe, and Defoe's through on goal. Thankfully, Mignolet reacts surprisingly fast and pokes it away, with defenders back quickly to block Borini's attempt.

And little by little, Liverpool got its act together, but only enough to stop the rot rather than truly threaten for the rest of the half. Some good defensive blocks, because Sunderland and Moyes and denying space, Sturridge again denied from distance, but it wasn't enough.

And then, more of the same in the second half, even as Moreno replaced Milner (I'm not sure whether through injury/fatigue or his yellow card or Klopp wanting a more threatening wide option, but I suspect the latter). Mané should have done better with a header from Clyne's cross and Mannone did well to save Sturridge's effort when the striker was right on top of him, but otherwise tame efforts from Can and Firmino (twice). Meanwhile, Sunderland howled as they were denied a second penalty when Can blocked a cross with his arm.

Thankfully, in the 72nd minute, second verse same as the first. Liverpool get a corner and Sunderland don't defend the second ball. This time, Moreno's delivery was really good and Djilobodji was unfortunate to flick on into a dangerous area, but Mané was first to react. Back in front. Time to shut up shop, etc.


It was odd that Origi finally came on right after the goal, replacing Wijnaldum in what had to be a pre-planned substitution. Now with a lead, Liverpool were potentially more exposed when playing 4-4-2 with a midfield of Can and Lallana. But Sunderland didn't threaten, couldn't really threaten. It was gonna work, guys!

Then Lucas came on.

Okay, that's not really fair. But there's a reason why "late Lucas foul in a dangerous position" is a running joke. Sure enough, less than two minutes after coming on, there's Lucas and there's Defoe on the ground, and there's a dead ball situation dead center less than 25 yards from goal. It shouldn't have mattered, nor should it have mattered that Defoe actually dived, because Larsson sent his effort straight at the wall, most likely traveling wide if it avoid contact. But for some reason, Mané stuck his arm straight out to block, and Anthony Taylor literally had no choice to point to the spot. And then second verse same as the first.

Both of Sunderland's penalties are the textbook definition of avoidable. With pictures and everything. Rested players are far less likely to make those mistakes. And, with Sturridge having gone off for Lucas and less firepower up front when Liverpool actually need it, we finish with ten minutes of Liverpool trying but Liverpool tired, and Sunderland wasting time and denying space, and tame Klavan and Firmino headers straight at Mannone.

This should not have happened.

Sure, there's more than a good bit of one-off fluke in that result, due to scheduling, due to the errors, due to Liverpool being otherwise comprehensively better in attack. But it's not as if we've never been here before.

The lesson of this story is a lesson we'd hoped Liverpool would have learned by now. Just don't do dumb things. Just don't. You can and you probably will be punished for it. I suspect the potential for dumb would have been lessened with more changes to the XI, but these are professionals. It is not an excuse.

Sort yourselves out.


Stibs said...

I'm increasingly concerned about Can, he really hasn't been at races for some considerable time now.

Yours is still the first place I head for a proper report though, thanks again for all the hard work.

Ryan McKain said...

Ditto this being this first place I look post-match. Thanks for another great year of reporting.

Anonymous said...

Just don't do dumb shit.

Like sticking a leg out in the box.

Like extending a hand out to obviously block a shot in the box right in front of the ref.

Two gifted goals.

Moyes crowing.


Just shoot me.