The 3-1 victory was definitely a step up from the one-all draw at the Stadium of Light last season, and the best way to bounce back from the last two defeats in all competitions. With Luis Suarez fully returned to the starting line-up and looking back to his best, this was more than just three points, it represented a sort of new start for the Reds.
First off, the negatives. The midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva is, as repeated countless times, looking tired. They failed to close Sunderland midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung fast enough – just like how they could not stop Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey recently – and this allowed the Korean to fire a shot towards Simon Mignolet’s goal. Though the Belgium international could have done better with his stop that allowed Emanuele Giaccherini to swoop onto the rebound and score, the shield of Liverpool’s back-four could have done better at closing Ki down.
The fact that Raheem Sterling’s introduction at right wing-back to shift Jordan Henderson into the centre of midfield led to Liverpool tightening up at the latter stages of the game just showed how much energy is lacking amongst Gerrard and Lucas right now. The Brazilian destroyer’s yellow card and subsequent suspension for the Crystal Palace game could be a blessing in disguise, as such he could get a rest which would force Brendan Rodgers to give Henderson his favoured central midfield role.
Strike Force of the Moment
The positives now. Suarez and Daniel Sturridge once again showed how lethal they are in front of goal, and how much of a threat they are, not only individually, but as a strike duo. Their link-up play and knowledge of how each other would run was such a joy to watch. For Suarez’s first, the way both communicated to each other was immense. Suarez saw Sturridge’s drive to the byline, and instructed the Englishman to go for the far post as he himself lost his marker at the same time.
Suarez’s second was essentially a one-two between the strike duo. The Uruguayan broke forward and delivered a lovely lofted ball towards Sturridge, who then saw Suarez’s gesture and run at the far post. The Englishman cleverly dribbled past his marker towards the byline and sent a low cross over. Suarez duly finished, of course, to end matters in the 89th minute.
It was Liverpool’s first goal in the second half of a Premier League game, and finally one that allowed the Reds to finish with a comfortable two goal margin, for the first time in this campaign as well.
Such was their team work would have delighted Rodgers. Many have accused both Sturridge and Suarez of being too individualistic and selfish, but those fears have surely been swept away by this performance. Both were willing to work with each other, and Suarez even dropped back into midfield to make a challenge.
3-4-1-2 Looking Good
Much credit has to be given to Rodgers for coming up with the new formation to accommodate both strikers, as well as accommodate the return of Philippe Coutinho, who fortunately was not missed today. Even the returning Glen Johnson will boost the attacking, and defensive, capabilities of this side. Though stand-in right wing-back Henderson brought much width and energy to the side, his delivery was severely lacking and as such Liverpool’s attack broke down most of the time.
The return of Johnson will give Liverpool much more balance and the double threat of Johnson on one side and Jose Enrique on the other will give opponents much more to worry about than just those two up front.
No Lucas for Palace
Looking ahead to next weekend’s game against Crystal Palace, Liverpool will have a chance to reshuffle their line-up, due to both forced and unforced situations. Lucas, as mentioned, is out after picking up his fifth yellow card at the Stadium of Light, as such Henderson is likely to shift inside to deputize for him. Though Henderson is a little haphazard in his play, his boundless energy will hopefully give Liverpool more control of the midfield.
Should Daniel Agger return, it would be difficult to see which of the three might miss out. Kolo Toure’s a certain starter now after recent performances, and with Martin Skrtel ever-improving and Mamadou Sakho proving his worth at such an early stage of his career, Agger’s return may not even be a certainty though. However, for the vice-captain, should he be 100% fit, he should be replacing Sakho, giving the Frenchman a break from his breathtaking start to his Anfield career.
Andre Wisdom will also be pushing for a start at right wing-back, now that Henderson’s pushed in, though I will not be surprised to see Toure pushed out wide instead to accommodate the vice-captain. One major wildcard could even see Sterling come in at right wing-back.
The rest of the team should be the same, judging by Rodgers recent team selections. Luis Alberto might have a shout in place of Victor Moses, though the Nigerian international has looked really threatening as an attacking force.
The imminent October return of Coutinho and Johnson will surely whet every Reds fans’ appetites, just as how Suarez’s return has proved so well already. Should the Reds be able to keep this form up while the Brazilian and Englishman return at the end of October, Liverpool can look toward the season with confidence that their best eleven is good enough for anyone.
Consistency will be key though, and another win at home to Crystal Palace is as important as ever, for momentum more than anything.