It was a story of first goal nerves last night at Anfield, and when it did arrive courtesy of a trademark Steven Gerrard free kick, the crowd erupted into a celebration as loud as had been heard on Merseyside all season.
This wasn’t the trademark Liverpool side whose attacking play has seen them compared to Europe’s elite, yet there was still an air of confidence about the players, that no matter what the situation, they were always going to see this Sunderland tie out and take the three points home.
Sunderland, fighting for their lives near the bottom of the table, may have left Liverpool with a sense of disappointment giving that they had chances near the end to share the points. It is a credit to them that they kept Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge quiet for the majority, staying disciplined and contained at a ground where Liverpool have only lost once all season.
Philippe Coutinho was the man who controlled proceedings in the middle, the little Brazilian utilising the ball well and always looking for the killer through ball. Coutinho has a presence about him which draws players in, and when he is closed down he knows his pass, drops the shoulder and sets the next play away.
Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson again worked tirelessly, although not having the same effect on this game than in previous weeks. Their fitness and work-rate will no doubt prove vital in the last 7 games, with Liverpool still to face fellow title challengers as well as the teams fighting at the bottom for relegation.
The nerves and perspiration oozed out of Anfield, perhaps a dress rehearsal for the final 7 games of the season, a message to let the fans know that they are in for an emotional rollercoaster of a ride.
At 2-0, Brendan Rodgers will have hoped for the cushion of a third, but it is credit to Sunderland and Gus Poyet that this did not happen. He introduced Ki Sung Yeung and Adam Johnson into the game midway through the second half, the pair adding a flair and determination to a tired looking Sunderland team.
The train came close to falling off the tracks after Ki’s 76th minute header, the ball somehow making its way through the Liverpool defence on the near post. Just before the South Korean’s goal, Lee Cattermole struck the bar and John O’Shea came close on 88 minutes with a header which will almost sent shockwaves around Manchester as well as Merseyside.
Suarez and Sturridge- A mixture of perfection and friction?
It has been nothing but plaudits this season for the two Liverpool forwards who have lit up the Premier League with 48 goals between them.
Many have spoken about how different both players they are, how there is almost a friction on the pitch. The inevitable articles questioning their relations on and off the pitch have sprung up from nowhere, no doubt trying to add fuel to the growing fire of this year’s league title run in, and whether their supposed ‘friction’ will see Liverpool fall just short of their 19th league victory.
Brendan Rodgers on Talk Sport post-Sunderland- “Everyone goes on about this partnership they have, but I don’t see it as that, they’re both soloists, they’re both individual players with different qualities”
The 48 goals they have racked up between them this season is nothing short of miraculous, defying the doubters on an almost weekly basis with their cunning and trickery.
This success in front of goal has come about because they are two gifted players, working not as two, but as a whole unit with the rest of their teammates. Whatever this ‘friction’ is, whether it exists at all in fact, it can stick around if this is the scoring rate these two phenomenal talents are producing.
A look ahead to Tottenham
Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham side travel north on Sunday for the 4pm kick off, and with the rest of the 7 playing before this clash, pressure will be on both teams given the nature of the up and down movement of the top teams this campaign.
A recently stuttering Tottenham side will still pose a danger however, and after being so close to Europa league progress away at Benfica then coming from behind to beat a quality Southampton side, they will be wanting to take all the confidence they have in what has been an up and down season.
Expect goals in this game, the fixture last year a memorable 3-2 Liverpool victory, Steven Gerrard scoring the winning penalty in the closing minutes. Tottenham have seen over 2.5 goals scored in 8 out of their last 10 away games they have been involved in, whilst Liverpool’s last 11 homes games out of the last 12 have seen 2.5 goals, with the Reds failing to score just once all season at Anfield.
Brendan Rodgers will look to implement the 4-1-3-2 diamond formation, an effective set-up over the last few games in which Liverpool have won their last 7. In the reverse fixture in December, a busy midfield at White Hart Lane made for a busy and frantic first half, one which Liverpool dominated proceedings throughout and saw Andres Villas Boas lose his job.
It is doubtful the same 5-0 scoreline will pan out this Sunday however, with Tottenham’s away form being their main positive this season, winning 6 of their last 9.
They sit 7 points off 4th and many have written them off Champions League qualification, but with Arsenal stuttering and a fixture list that will see them play just one team in the current top half after their visit to Anfield, a late surge by Sherwood’s men could add a little more to the end of season drama we are all anticipating.