This was always going to be a game of attack vs defence. Sunderland manager, David Moyes, made his intentions clear before the match regarding exactly how he was going to approach the game. Get men behind the ball and defend was the game-plan.
Jurgen Klopp knew, before a ball was even kicked, it was going to be an afternoon of patience and that’s exactly how it panned out. With the now retired Steven Gerrard in the crowd, in addition to the owner John W Henry and several of Klopp’s friends from Germany, Liverpool wanted an early goal.
It was clear Sunderland defender, Jason Denayer, was only on the pitch for one reason and that was to follow Philippe Coutinho. That’s exactly what the Belgian international did until Coutinho was forced to leave the field with an injury in the first half. It’s not know what the extent of the injury is at present but everyone at the club will be hoping it is a minor knock and the Brazilian will be fit again for next weekend.
Despite the loss of Coutinho being a real blow to Liverpool, the team seemed to find more joy going forward in his absence. Whether it upset Sunderland’s tactics, as Denayer didn’t quite know what to do or if it was a case of simply wearing the Black Cats down, Liverpool started to push the visitors back into their own box. At times Sunderland were playing an 8-2-0 formation late in the first half, something which Klopp referred to in his post-match comments.
The introduction of Divock Origi in place of Coutinho gave Liverpool are more direct and physical threat up-front and the Belgian looked more dangerous than at any other time when coming off the bench this season. However, despite their best efforts, Liverpool could not make the breakthrough in the first half.
Into the second 45 minutes and it was more of the same, as Liverpool looked to open the scoring against a team who had no real interest in trying to score a goal themselves. Shots were flying in, firstly from Giorginio Wijnaldum, then Emre Can and thirdly from Sadio Mane but none of them found the back of the net. As time ticked on, the home fans would be forgiven for preparing themselves for the inevitable headlines of Liverpool not being able to defeat the bottom clubs at home. However, there is something different about the team this season and when Duncan Watmore missed a good chance to open the scoring for Sunderland, this seemed to bring the crowd and players into life.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, Origi picked the ball up on the left, cut inside Watmore and curled a delightful shot into the far corner. Relief and elation was evident around Anfield and the way Sunderland set their stall out, there was no coming back for them. Mane broke away from the halfway line in stoppage time and was brought down in the box. James Milner converted the penalty and the three points were secure.
It was a less than satisfactory performance from Liverpool and Klopp was quick to point out how Sunderland were the most defensive team he had ever seen. The German manager was very animated during the second half, trying to encourage both his players and the crowd. There was also a touch of frustration in the way he was behaving and an altercation with a Sunderland coach brought this to a head. Mane was not at his best and Wijnaldum does not possess the same energy and drive to press in the way Adam Lallana has been this season. Jordan Henderson struggled to influence the play going forward and in general, it was only Roberto Firmino’s performance in the second half and Origi’s goal which lifted the match.
Watch highlights of Liverpool vs Sunderland Below.