Liverpool couldn’t build on their recent Premiership momentum this afternoon as they were held to a bore draw to an organised Sunderland Athletic side at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers chose to rest talisman Steven Gerrard.
His introduction in the second half although inspiring, failed to change the course of a game that had ‘bore-draw’ written all over it.
Brendan Rodgers kept faith with Kolo Touré and Martin Skrtel in central defence and Glen Johnson returned to the right side allowing Alberto Moreno to replace Javi Manquillo. The midfield consisted of Lucas, deservedly retaining his place in front of the defence alongside Jordan Henderson. Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana were chosen to support lone striker Rickie Lambert.
The hosts made hard work of a match they would – in better times – have been expected to win relatively easily. However, this current team would struggle to beat their under-18 side on this showing. I watched the entire match but you know what? I can’t even recall much worth writing about.
Lambert was generally stranded up front although to be fair, he’s the only fit striker out of four currently in the Liverpool squad. Sunderland had most of the possession in the first 20 minutes of the game and that was because the hosts repeatedly gave it to them. Liverpool’s one bright spark for much of this affair was Lucas who worked tirelessly in front of the back four. So much were the visitors in early contention, Liverpool fan Conor Wickham had two decent shouts for a penalty. Referee Neil Swarbrick having none of it.
That said, the hosts grew as the game went on. Despite the fact that creativity was lacking, it would be unfair to say endeavour was. Gus Poyet’s men packed the midfield to snuff out any chance of the home side expressing themselves creatively. Sterling, Coutinho both found their paths blocked across the midfield. Adam Lallana was very quiet and perhaps his best contribution came when he crossed from the right after a nice bit of skill. His centre was met by Lambert who was just unable to guide his header toward goal.
The second half brought more of the same. Sterling and Coutinho probed the Sunderland back line. Steven Gerrard replaced the ineffective Lallana on 67 minutes and despite his influence was unable to conjure up anything one could describe as “game changing” other than a couple of trademark passes. Sterling made a silky run through the visiting defence but his centre to Coutinho went straight at keeper Costel Pantilimon who gathered easily. The Brazilian was promptly replaced by Lazar Markovic. He in turn was unable to affect the inevitable outcome except a half chance in the box as Liverpool pressed for a winner late on.
Very disappointing result for Liverpool who could have done with the win. Not just with the vital Champions League match against Basel coming up on Tuesday, but also with Arsenal suffering a 3-2 loss at Stoke. That would have put Liverpool in seventh to send a message to the Gooners but it wasn’t to be.
One plus from the game today was that Liverpool kept a clean sheet. Sunderland did pressure them a couple of times but the defence looks much less nervy with Touré and Lucas around. What was glaring is the dearth of attacking options Rodgers has at his disposal. With Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli, and Fabio Borini all injured these are times for the midfield to step up and take the goal-scoring responsibility. Unfortunately, the attacking three on show today showed how much they still have to learn about unpicking a packed midfield and defence.
What’s worse is that the replacements, Gerrard and Markovic barely, if at all added anything more. Rodgers notably kept three players high up the pitch when defending corners today, looking to capitalise on clearances from defensive corners. However, on the occasion this worked, possession was given away cheaply. Reinforcements are needed and much is made of looking for a striker. However, by the time the January window comes around, it’s likely those injured now should all be fit again. Well, perhaps not for Sturridge the way he’s going.
Personally, I think the midfield is just as dire and there aren’t any injuries to complain of there. I think Emre Can needs to be given a good run in the side in place of Coutinho who is not having the best of seasons. If money needs to be spent, then Rodgers either bursts the bank on a world class attacking midfielder – availability of same, probably nil – or keep the money in the bank.
This season is becoming a bit of a misnomer in terms of being title “Challengers”. This side is anything but. Best fans can hope for is a respectable top-five or six finish. And we all know that nobody can live on hope alone.
MotM: Lucas Leiva
Follow me on Twitter: @Mrbengreen