Sunderland vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned in 1-1 Draw
Liverpool are still without a win in the Premier League this season after they needed a Luis Suarez equaliser to take a point off Sunderland, with the Reds still getting up to speed in the Brendan Rodgers era.
Despite having to come from a goal down, Liverpool were very much the dominant side in the game, with the home team happy to sit back and soak up pressure after they took their lead.
Rodgers made two changes to his last team, with Martin Kelly and Jonjo Shelvey coming into the side in place of Jose Enrique and Nuri Sahin.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Sunderland Show Liverpool What It Means to Be Clinical
Much has been made of Liverpool's perceived inability to take their chances often enough in games, and for a spell it looked like that would be a problem again against Sunderland.
After controlling play for a fair stretch in the first half and looking the more likely to score, Liverpool instead found themselves trailing at the interval thanks to a Steven Fletcher strike.
It was the first shot on goal that the Black Cats had managed in the half until that point—and remained the only one they had in the course of the entire 90 minutes inside their own stadium.
The shot went in, though, and it earned Sunderland a point.
Fletcher has had three shots on target for Sunderland since signing for them from Wolves—and has scored three goals.
Now that's clinical.
Luis Suarez Doesn't Score Enough, Right?
Along with the Liverpool team in general, Luis Suarez has come under particular fire for not scoring enough goals with the chances he has—he hit 17 goals in all competitions last season.
This term, the Uruguayan has started well, notching two goals in four Premier League games, and three in six overall.
If he continues with a 1-for-2 strike rate, nobody can have any complaints whatsoever.
In fact, that was probably the best part of his play today; Suarez on a couple of occasions was guilty of holding on to the ball too long instead of releasing it quickly to a teammate in possession.
He was also booked for diving—though television replays certainly showed there was contact. It might not have been a definite penalty, but it definitely wasn't a yellow-card diving offence.
Evident Signs That the Team Is Still Getting to Grips with New System...
There were, in the first half, numerous occasions when early on in the match Liverpool looked to simply hit it long and try to let Raheem Sterling chase after the ball, Fabio Borini hold it up or merely relieve pressure on the back line.
It wasn't particularly pretty, and it was a million miles away from what Brendan Rodgers would have wanted to be seeing from his players.
There was little pressure applied up the top end of the pitch, the front four or five players were trying to reach the final third in a single pass each time they got hold of the ball, and there was little shape about the Reds' midfield play.
It's going to take some time for the players not only to understand what their manager wants from them, but also to be comfortable and confident enough to put it into practice on the pitch week in and week out—irrespective of pressure from opposition or location of the match.
...and Evident Signs That It IS Beginning to Click
The second half was a completely different affair.
Liverpool were stronger on the ball, passed it more quickly, completely dominated the game from the 46th minute until the full-time whistle and scored a goal which they thoroughly deserved.
Raheem Sterling came to life in the final half-hour and was the best player on the pitch, Jonjo Shelvey found himself in better spaces to attack the penalty area, and the ball was recycled quickly and effectively every time Sunderland tried to clear their lines.
They looked a much more balanced side when Stewart Downing came on as substitute, and the truth of the matter is that, should Liverpool have been able to bring in a forward as they wanted to late on in the transfer window, Fabio Borini might be taken out of the starting lineup for now as he gets to grip with playing for Liverpool.
He is one of those who needs just a little pressure taken off him for now.
Liverpool had two-thirds possession in the game overall, an impressive amount of control to display away from home, and merited the point they got at the very least—though a win would not have flattered them in the slightest.
It's coming for Liverpool. Slowly, yes, but it is coming together.
Poor Defending Again Costs Liverpool Dear...as Does the Woodwork
Liverpool were good enough in possession for much of the game that they didn't have to do too much defending—one shot on target in 90 minutes from the home team tells its own tale.
However, for the fourth Premier League match in a row, a poor moment in defence cost the Reds points.
Craig Gardner was allowed to skip far, far too easily between Luis Suarez and, in particular, Glen Johnson en route to crossing for Steven Fletcher's opening goal.
It was a moment of utter lack of determination from the full-back who, until the final 30 minutes, when Sterling buzzed into action, had probably been the Reds' best player.
He defended well for the most part, but there is no excusing Johnson's limp, dangling-leg excuse for a tackle in the buildup to that goal.
At the other end of the pitch, it was a case of last season all over again, as Johnson, again involved, curled a great shot against the crossbar before Steven Gerrard side-footed an effort wide off the post.
Efforts hitting the woodwork are not something Liverpool fans are keen to see too much of again this season.
Aside from the Game, Fans Were Able to Show Their Support
The Sunderland-Liverpool match was also a chance for supporters, of both sides it must be noted, to show their respect and appreciation for the recent report by an independent panel acknowledging the innocence of the Liverpool supporters in the Hillsborough disaster.
Fans in games all over the country—with a notable exception of those in the Northwest—also showed class, awareness and respect for the same reason.
It was important for the fans to be able to support the ongoing campaign for justice, just as it was important they supported the team while they trailed in the Stadium of Light.
Next week, Kopites will be back at home against Manchester United for what will no doubt be a tense and tempestuous affair, and all involved will hope that the football does the talking.
And that Liverpool end up with their first league win of the season.
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