Liverpool 1 Sunderland 0 – Three points is three points

Posted by Barrettski on August 21, 2005, 04:38:51 PM

Liverpool 1 Sunderland 0 – Winning messily

Ahhh… the first home game of the Premiership season.  It’s a delight isn’t it?  A fresh summer breeze follows you down the Breck Road, bright sunlight filters through the Kop roofing, the pitch is a bowling green and the European Champions are receiving visitors.  Lovely.  Except is wasn’t really was it?

On paper this game had so much to offer, top of the list for me was banishing the memory of that disgraceful nil–nil we had to endure at the hands of the same team in November 2002.  We’ve seen some special things this year, but just as we had to endure travel chaos after the fun in Istanbul, we’ll have to get used to watching Rafa developing the recipe for defeating organised teams like McCarthy’s.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I was happy as pig in shit sleeping on that bit of cardboard waiting for some semblance of organisation from the Turkish airport authorities; it’s just that I’d rather it didn’t happen.  Similarly, I’m happy as Larry with the three points.  I just wish it had been achieved with a tad more authority and co-ordination.

Back to the game on paper then.  The reds lined up with Reina in nets, Carra and Sami in the middle with Finnan and Warnock flanking them.  I pulled a face as his name flashed across our Casio scoreboard.  I’m still not convinced we’ve had a quality specialist left back since Barney Rubble (or is that harsh?).  The middle looks far more palatable.  Xabi, Stevie and Momo Sissoko.  There’s enough pace, grit, guile and heart there to beat anyone.  Sadly the three players to channel those qualities through are Zenden, Cisse and Morientes.  No complaints before the whistle, but the way they played almost brought the nil-nil nightmares back.

Sunderland brought more than enough heart with them.  Davis (no Macho) between the sticks with Arca (stalwart), Breen (co-ordinator), Stubbs (Blue and White Shite) and Nosworthy (probably was actually) across the back.  The midfield was feisty enough with Welsh, Robinson, Miller, Lawrence and Whitehead all kicking around, literally.  Gray took a lonely role upfront as McCarthy looked to make this one a midfield battle.

Before we started there were fifteen minutes allocated to general faffing outside the ground and an impeccably observed minute’s silence for Anthony Walker.  RIP.  For those underneath it, the Kop mosaic was “Free Michael” and here’s hoping he’ll be home and underneath a mosaic himself soon.  It seemed this wasn’t the time for a peek of the big jug.  Shame, the Mackems would surely love to see a trophy.

Sunderland kicked off attacking the Kop and then duly retreated twenty yards into their game plan.  I’m sure there’s room for a new TV show here.  Liverpool CSI - where investigators turn out the visiting dressing room to uncover a plot to fill the Sunday sports pages with words like “defiant”, “organised”, “stout resistance”, “banks of four” and even “hard earned draw”.  They managed all but the last one.

The reds should have changed the complexion of the game within the first five minutes.  Our first chance saw Gerrard hit a sublime Murphy-esque curling ball into the box only to see nobody attack it and the ball come back off Davis’ left upright.  Our second disappeared when Morientes crashed Gerrard’s corner against the advertising hoardings.  Then Carra drove forward past a couple of black shirts only to be pulled down outside the area.  You might want to re-read that line, yes it was Carragher striding forward and yes it looks like he’s looking to improve his game still further.

The resulting free kick came to nothing and the next few minutes went the same way.  Sunderland’s defence was organised, stout and defiant and I could only see us trying to burst through the middle.  Now with Bolo Zenden playing wide left, Cisse playing wide right and one of the best headers of the ball in the middle, I didn’t think that was very clever.  Closer inspection saw Zenden preferring to ghost inside rather than head for the byline and Cisse looking too lost, sheepish and wide to contribute effectively.  In fact he was wide enough to order a drink in the Kemlyn Reds Bar. 

That said, this spluttering front three did manage to conjure up a couple more gilt edged chances in the half.  Bolo did find enough space out left to whip in low cross only for Cisse’s studs to make insufficient contact and the ball to go wide.  Argue amongst yourselves as to whether Michael would have got there or not.

Zenden also caused enough havoc to win the goalscoring free kick.  Running at players pulls defences out of position, creates openings and wins free kicks.  It’s also great to see, but I’d still rather he went wide to cross when Morientes is playing. 

Xabi was quick to stand over the ball about 25 yards out and seconds later we were bouncing around again.  His shot curled in head high inside Davis’ left post.  The goalkeeper’s union might disagree but I thought a less limp wrested effort on his part could have kept it out.  But take nothing from Xabi, that was a class free kick with accuracy and pace.  With that kind of talent on tap, I think running at defenders (however organised they might be) is a real attacking option for us.

Half time then and some summer blade gazing for me.  I really could watch grass grow at Anfield.  Others thought it was more interesting to talk about Sissoko.  Is he the new Viera?  Maybe.  He covers ground like Viera, he tackles better than Viera but he doesn’t yet see the game like Viera.  It will come, and even without those passing skills he put in a man of the match performance here.  The Bitters should be kicking themselves for not picking his signature up sooner.

I must admit I expected more from the second half.  But just like rolling over on a marble airport concourse, it was a bit painful to endure.  Chances were created and we should have put them away and settled into a comfortable second half.  Cisse seemed to be the chief culprit.  He was offside for the tap in he put away, drilled a sweetly struck volley just wide and wasted a one on one chance by launching it high into the Kop.  Mackems might suggest Cisse was being sporting and putting the ball out of play there with Stubbs lying on the ground after a brief acquaintance with Gerrard’s boot.  In reality the Bluenose was acting and Cisse should have scored.

Our tactics seemed to improve somewhat but then that only emphasised further concerns.  With Garcia on for Gerrard and Cisse moved up alongside Nando we were had a bona fide four-four-two system working.  Except with width-shy Zenden on the left and Garcia losing possession with fancy flicks on the right it wasn’t working.  Riise came on for Zenden but added running and effort where guile and crosses were required.  He too launched one into the Kop, but then that’s not a new game of his.

Mr Knight provided the remainder of the talking points.  Having booked Gerrard, Sissoko, Breen and Robinson he virtually sealed the game by sending Welsh off for flirting with Garcia.  Garcia is a lovely lad but he doesn’t need that sort of attention.  More poignantly, Welsh doesn’t need to put referees in the position where they might make poor decisions.  Running through a player, clumsily or intentionally, with or without elbows does just that. 

November 2002 saw us lose at Middlesbrough one week and draw nil-nil to Sunderland the next.  I wouldn’t call these bogey teams but with such memories, these four points are a result.  OK, so the first home game wasn’t a carnival and we didn’t see the European Cup but some days are always going to be more sombre than others and three points is three points. 

Redmen performances:

Reina:  Mostly untroubled.  Opted to punch for one clearance which always makes me nervous, but it was the right choice and he didn’t repeat his walkabout antics from last week.  Solid and I prefer him.

Finnan:  Looks solid and comfortable to me.  Stevie has enough class to be targeting a full season playing alongside Carragher.  Our problems aren’t on that side of defence…

Warnock:  …but this side doesn’t fill me with confidence.  Sunderland only posed a threat down their right, our left and much of this seemed to be down to Stevie’s positioning and a lack of cover when he ventured forward from both Zenden and Sami.  I’m not writing him off though, he is a talent and the kind of hard tackling player we’ll need this season.

Carragher:  Ferdinand is over rated, Campbell is past his best… and so in my humbe opinion Carra deserves a regular England place on merit.  He really has risen to world class levels of performance and this was another solid display.

Hyypia:  Commanding in the air and with Gray in his pocket there was little to worry about here from our favourite Finn.  Except perhaps that nagging doubt that he could have covered for Warnock a little better?

Xabi Alonso:  A gem of a goal to cap a steady display.  If Glazer was watching he’d be calling him our quarterback and be asking for one like him.  We’re more likely to call him the real slim Molby, such is the way he sprays the ball round the park at any range.  It also looks like he’s added a bit of bite to his tackling and tracking back.  Can’t really remember Jan performing sliding tackles though.

Gerrard:  Started the game driving us forward and foraging for the opening goal as anyone would expect.  Ended the game crocked with a non serious calf problem.  I’d love to know what those scans actually show up.  Anyway – got the kind of ovation he deserves and looked to be enjoying it too.  Home is where the heart is after all. 

Sissoko:  Man of the match for me.  This could be a big season for Momo, at the end of it he could have it all.  To be fair, he starts with quite a bit.  He harries, tacks back and tackles like the best I’ve seen.  He’s also got some ball skills – one interchange with Nando almost saw him through on goal.  Great prospect and set to be awesome if his vision and passing ever match his movement and tackling.  Did I mention tackling?  Sadly he’ll also pick up a shed load of bookings.  An occupational hazard, I wouldn’t tone him down just yet.

Zenden:  Middlesbrough’s player of the season last season you know.  Good skill, nice dribbling and the odd nice cross.  The question for me here is how he’s deployed and which areas he’s asked to probe.  The second question (I’m having two) is how we ensure the full back is also protected when needed.  Is it just me or have we had this same problem for years?

Cisse:  Now I know Lord Frodsham’s heart is in the right place but I’m not sure he is when he’s out wide.  I also can’t see him ever hitting the coveted twenty a season.  Aldo is right there.  I’m not sure how Rafa is going to get this Liverpool side to play to the wide diversity of strengths we have upfront but the risk is one of our strikers could go a bit “Heskey” along the journey.

Morientes:  I’m not sure he’s the player to leave alone upfront.  He’s always had a decent foil before (OK so “decent” doesn’t do Raul justice but you know what I mean).  He also lacks the pace to cover the amount of ground a lone striker is expected to.  Yes he can head the ball, but ball (singular) is what we’re talking about here with the current levels of service he gets.  Looks slow and out of sorts – but at least he’s toughened up a bit.

Baros:  Too little time in the shop window to impress.  Lively and moved the defenders around nicely though.

Riise:  Surprised he wasn’t starting (left back or left midfield).  Did his usual show but lacks the tricks to get round the back of a defence like this one.

Garcia:  Flattered to deceive here.  Lost the ball on many an occasion when nothing seemed to come off.  But can I complain – Riise lacks the tricks and arcia’s don’t come off.  Can’t have it both ways, but I do wonder if he’s better employed supporting Morientes with no defensive responsibilities in games like this.

Kop:  Usual seats everyone?  Nice mosaic, difficult to get roused for Sunderland and therefore seemed to still be on holiday for vast stretches of this game.  Still struggling with Carra and Garcia tunes.  Main Stand and Annie Road seemed to want to sing “Going Down”.  Shame on you.

Them:  Kind of vocal and a fair few numbers but overly obsessed with the referee.  It was the linesman who got Welsh sent of folks and any ref would have given that procession of the free kicks late in the second half.

© Barrettski 2005

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