Liverpool and Sunderland played out a drab goalless affair at Anfield. Here are five thoughts on the match.
Liverpool devoid of ideas in attack
Most analysts have commented aplenty on Liverpool’s defensive frailties. It’s been clear for quite some time now that Brendan Rodgers has struggled to establish a good defensive strategy at Anfield. This season we are also beginning to see that the manager is unable to come up with a coherent attacking formula. Having a fluid formation is all well and good when your players have the right guidance or a tactical blueprint. Against Sunderland, the Reds were bereft of ideas when they had the ball. Rickie Lambert was once again simply looked at as an aerial threat, while Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho kept making the same runs and occupying the same spaces. The result was there we no genuine attacking outlets, Raheem Sterling’s excellent runs again being the exception. Fans of the Reds have pinned their hopes on salvaging their season through their attack compensating for defensive deficiencies. On the evidence of this match, it’s not an approach that is likely to yield much success.
Johnson and Henderson undroppable under Rodgers
Steven Gerrard’s place in the first team has dominated the narrative around Liverpool in the past month. The media’s fascination over the Liverpool captain has diverted attention away from plenty of other under-performing players. For all the rotation and statements in favour of a deep squad, Rodgers, like other managers has his favourites that he can never consider dropping. Jordan Henderson is one of those players whose reputation was artificially enhanced thanks to the space that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge created last season. The English midfielder gives the impression of a leader, but his passes are often safe and his wayward shots from outside the box mask the insecurities of a player who is not comfortable taking on responsibility.
As far as Glen Johnson is concerned, even the most blinkered Liverpool fan will concur that the right back hasn’t contributed positively in a long while. Like the team itself, most were willing to forgive Johnson’s defensive mistakes on the basis of his attacking potency. Yet, the truth is the right back’s crosses rarely find a teammate in the box while he has also developed a tendency to blast balls into row Z. Javier Manquillo must wonder what he’s done wrong to be overlooked by Rodgers.
Sunderland could have got more with greater ambition
Sunderland will be happy to go home with a great point, but they may well wonder if they could have got the win with a proactive approach. Jordi Gomez and Sebastian Larsson were comfortable in midfield for most of the match hardly losing possession. With only Lucas protecting the defence, Gus Poyet could have gambled by starting Will Buckley on the wings to complement Adam Johnson rather than having two forwards focused on coming deep. They may not get a better chance to win at Anfield.
Poyet a good big game manager
Still, a point at Anfield is one more than most would have expected. Sunderland’s improvement in big games since Gus Poyet has taken over is marked. Last season’s fairytale escape was based on away wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. This season the Mackems have already got a point against the Blues, United and now Liverpool. The Uruguayan relishes the opportunity to pit his wits against the best. There is an attention to detail and preparedness that Poyet instils in his players for these games, suggesting sooner rather than later he is bound to manage higher up the division.
Few positives for Liverpool
Ahead of a season-defining week for Liverpool, there is no sense of momentum building for the Reds. Liverpool have to win their last game in the group stages of the Champions League against Basel. If the Swiss team watched this game, they must believe a draw at Anfield isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. After the European game, they face United away next weekend. There is one positive the Reds can cling on to. Lucas Leiva and Kolo Toure have brought some stability to their defence. After last season’s thrilling ride, the Reds are now reduced to somehow sneaking out wins by trying their hardest not to concede. How the mighty have fallen!