After what has been a monumental and emotional week on Merseyside, football was something of an afterthought. The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel have shocked the nation, but it merely highlighted what the families of the victims and the survivors of the disaster have known all along. The club, though, had to focus on the task at hand: a trip to Sunderland, as Brendan Rodgers went in search of his first league win as Liverpool boss.
With the entire Liverpool starting eleven all away on international duty for the best part of the last fortnight, Rodgers has had little time to work with the squad, and it was telling. There were few complaints with the team selection; the main talking point was Jonjo Shelvey getting the nod over Nuri Sahin, but Shelvey had been impressive in the past few league games, and put in a man-of-the-match performance for England U21s, so was given the chance to build on his recent good form. Instead he put in arguably his worst performance for Liverpool.
In the first-half the Reds looked lethargic and off-the-pace, constantly misplacing simple passes and with Sunderland only marginally worse it made for absolutely dire viewing. Speaking to a selection of Liverpool websites over the international break, Rodgers had spoke of the need for the team to be patient in possession and wait for the right opportunity to make that penetrating move forward, so he would have been furious by the constant attempts from certain players, particularly Gerrard and Shelvey, to attempt the Hollywood ball.
Liverpool’s hated nemesis, the woodwork, continued to be a thorn in their side. Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard hit the bar and the post respectively, and the continued profligacy of the side again cost them what should have been a routine three points based on the balance of play
Sunderland’s goal was a disaster from a Liverpool point of view; a reoccurring nightmare that will seemingly never end. The Reds had dominated the game before that without playing particularly well, and then the Black Cats scored with their first attack of the game. Craig Gardner skipped past Suarez and Glen Johnson with ease and played a low cross in to the box which Reina missed, and Skrtel allowed Fletcher to run across him and tap home. A goal that was completely avoidable but painfully predictable. The Scot has attempted only three shots all season, but has scored three goals; oh how Liverpool yearn for such a clinical striker.
Still, Liverpool continued to press and had the better of the game. Up front, Rodgers played Fabio Borini in his preferred central role, with Luis Suarez playing on the left of the front three, and the precocious Raheem Sterling on the right. Borini looked far more comfortable playing through the middle, and did a decent job of holding the ball up and linking play, even going close to scoring on a few occasions but was denied by Simon Mignolet. He was replaced after an hour, but he was far more involved in the game than any of the other league games, so hopefully Rodgers persists with him as a striker rather than a wide forward.
Suarez was again underwhelming, and was deservedly booked in the first-half for a blatant dive. I’ve seen some of our fans moan that he was booked when Danny Wellbeck did the exact same thing for Manchester United and was awarded a penalty. Whilst I agree that the Wellbeck decision was a farce, what Luis did was inexcusable. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right, but they do highlight to infuriating inconsistency in refereeing decisions that plague our game. Suarez moved in to the middle for the last half an hour and he scored the equaliser with an instinctive finish, but this wasn’t a vintage performance – hopefully he’s saving that for next Sunday against United.
The Reds sit in 17th place, and could end the weekend in the relegation zone, but only idiots pay any attention to league table in September.
Sterling’s performance, meanwhile, was again the highlight of the game. If any of you have read my pieces on ST with any regularity over the past six months, you will know that Raheem Sterling is a name that has constantly featured in my articles. He has gone from a talented youngster to a bonafide first-team player, and whilst he is still only 17 and must be nurtured, given the paucity of our attacking options he must play as regularly as possible. He was a constant threat in the second-half, and created the Liverpool equaliser when he showed Danny Rose a clean set of heels and crossed the ball towards Suarez, who finished at the second attempt.
Liverpool’s hated nemesis, the woodwork, continued to be a thorn in their side. Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard hit the bar and the post respectively, and the continued profligacy of the side again cost them what should have been a routine three points based on the balance of play. Still, there are plenty of positives to take from the second-half performance, and the more time Rodgers has to work with the squad, the better they will play.
According to the stattos, this is now Liverpool’s worst start to a season for over 100 years - and with Manchester United visiting Anfield in their next league game, failure to take all three points next Sunday may well make it their worst ever start to a league campaign. The Reds sit in 17th place, and could end the weekend in the relegation zone, but only idiots pay any attention to league table in September.
I’m sure if they manage to get their first victory on the board against their biggest rivals next week, the past month or so will be all but forgotten. Hopefully football takes precedence, and the game is remembered for what happens on it, rather than what happens in the stands.
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