Liverpool could have had three goals in the first half against Sunderland with a dominant display, but the Reds allowed Sunderland back into the game, leaving themselves under pressure and forced to hit long balls. The question is, why?
Liverpool couldn't have been better in the first half—much like in the opening exchanges against Valencia—their aggressive pressing and fast fluid passing gave Sunderland all sorts of problems.
Stewart Downing continued to show his value linking up with teammates, running at defenders and providing the kind of quality crosses Anfield hasn't seen in years. Not to mention his 34th minute almost wonder goal.
Jose Enrique was handed a surprise debut too, and put in a solid performance.
Tactically, Dalglish had gotten it right, at least in the first half. Luis Suarez hovered in the 'hole' between midfield and defense, while Henderson shifted between wide and central areas, giving Liverpool an extra man in midfield whenever he came inside.
With Henderson less advanced and Lucas performing his usual defensive role, Downing was given a license to attack and he caused problems for Sunderland's defence on both the right and the left side of midfield.
Cattermole and Colback were unable to pick Suarez up, allowing the Uruguayan to form the link between midfield and attack. With Henderson often playing centrally Liverpool tended to have a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch and therefore dominated possession.
Despite creating plenty of chances, poor finishing and not a lot of luck let Liverpool down. Luis Suarez really had no excuse in blasting his penalty over the bar. Even though he made up for it later, that could have been the difference between winning and losing the match. On a side note, it was the first time a player has failed to score a penalty at Anfield since Gerrard missed one against Fulham in 2006.
You can say what you like about Phil Dowd's decision to not send off Keiran Richardson but Liverpool need to be good enough to win the game without the help of referees.
Similarly, Carroll's foul on Wes Brown was a borderline call which probably could have been waved on, but again, Liverpool should have done enough by that point.
Andy Carroll was the most wasteful of Liverpool's players in front of goal, only managing two out of a possible eight on target throughout the entire match.
The target man has had big expectations laid on his shoulders by Dalglish, but so far he's not shown the quality in return for that faith. Nevertheless, he's young, so he deserves judgement to be withheld so he can show us if he really is good enough.
This match was the epitome of a 'game of two halves'.
Liverpool seemed to have not turned up for the second half as Sunderland came out and pegged the Reds back.
Luis Suarez's quick descent into fatigue—having won the Copa America only a few weeks earlier—as well as the rest of the side, could offer a possible explanation as to what went sour for the reds.
Whereas Sunderland had struggled to pick him up in the first half, Suarez was clearly tiring in the second, and his link up play became less effective as the game wore on.
With no real creative outlet in the centre, Liverpool's other players increasingly turned to the easier option of hitting the ball long to Carroll, or making a bad pass in defence as Sunderland increasingly turned up the pressure.
This played right into Sunderland's hands, allowing the vastly experienced Wes Brown to easily deal with Andy Carroll and eventually leading to Larsson's excellent equalizing volley.
What Liverpool really needed at that point was someone like Gerrard, Meireles or Aquilani to come into the side and regain control of the midfield. Someone with the ability to take control of the game.
How would you rate Liverpool's first performance?
With Gerrard out injured and Aquilani not even making the squad it was a surprise not to see Meireles starting. Whether that was due to injury, or due to being inferior to Jordan Henderson in the eyes of Dalglish is hard to say. Nonetheless, his introduction was too late to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
Arguably, Meireles would have had a larger impact had he been given the more central free role Suarez had earlier occupied. As it was he was positioned on the left with Kuyt and Carroll teaming up in attack.
That partnership seemed to lack imagination and ideas and increasingly it led to long ball football, which was neither pretty or effective.
Despite that, there were more than enough signs in the opening 45 minutes that Liverpool are capable of a top four finish this season. With a wounded Arsenal side next stop on the road, the Reds could well take all three points, but only if they can maintain their quality for the full 90 minutes.
Statistics from Guardian