Sunday 23 July 2017

Coutinho injury takes gloss off Reds victory

Liverpool 2 Sunderland 0

Jurgen Klopp with debutant Ben Woodburn as he prepares to come on. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Jurgen Klopp with debutant Ben Woodburn as he prepares to come on. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Andy Hunter

The crowd here included the recently retired Steven Gerrard, Liverpool owner John W Henry, and several former school friends of Jurgen Klopp invited over from Germany. Their old classmate, it transpired, is still learning at the age of 49.

"I learned today that we are able to beat even the most defensive team I ever played against," he said following Liverpool's brief return to the Premier League summit.

Sunderland's Lynden Gooch in action with Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne at Anfield. Photo: Lee Smith/Reuters
Sunderland's Lynden Gooch in action with Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne at Anfield. Photo: Lee Smith/Reuters

A rewarding victory came at a price for Liverpool. Philippe Coutinho was taken off on a stretcher with an ankle injury that will require a scan and left the influential Brazilian hobbling out of Anfield on crutches. His replacement, Divock Origi, would eventually break Sunderland's resistance just as the fear of a second consecutive goalless draw appeared to have gripped the home crowd, prompting another of those furious outbursts from their manager.

"Atmosphere is a big, big part of the game and I tried to remind the crowd. They reacted brilliantly," he said.

Sunderland's Didier Ibrahim Ndong (left) and Liverpool's Divock Origi battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Dave Howarth/PA
Sunderland's Didier Ibrahim Ndong (left) and Liverpool's Divock Origi battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Dave Howarth/PA

Origi's influence on Liverpool's sixth win in seven home matches provided another demonstration of the quality attacking options at Klopp's disposal. The performance and atmosphere showed how far Liverpool have come in the nine months since Sunderland were last here and recovered from a two-goal deficit thanks to a player who now languishes in jail, Adam Johnson. Back in February Liverpool were wracked by division, thousands walking out in protest at proposed ticket price rises, and brittle when faced with recovery by a relegation-threatened team. Today, they are united, confident and finding solutions.

Sunderland's anxieties had eased a little with back-to-back league wins, and they succeeded where many have failed this season in stifling Liverpool throughout the first half.

Sunderland manager David Moyes on the touchline during the match at Anfield, Photo: Dave Howarth/PA
Sunderland manager David Moyes on the touchline during the match at Anfield, Photo: Dave Howarth/PA

Liverpool's threat levels increased once Coutinho exited, strangely, with Sunderland ending the first half hanging on in an 8-2-0 formation. He had been injured when Didier Ndong cleared the ball off his toes but connected with the right foot on the follow-through.

Origi brought a more direct, physical presence and Liverpool stepped up the pressure as half-time approached. It never dropped after the restart; Sunderland were clinging on, reliant on good fortune.

A slew of chances were created and missed. The tension around Anfield intensified but Origi released it out of nothing with 15 minutes remaining. The Belgian took possession on the left of the area, cut back inside a tired challenge from Duncan Watmore and curled a shot low into the far corner.

In stoppage-time Sadio Mane broke from the halfway line, held off Jason Denayer and was sent flying by Ndong. James Milner converted a clear penalty.

"I don't know any good teams who aren't first and foremost defensively sound," said Sunderland manager Moyes in response to Klopp's barbed comments. "If you want to win the Premier League, you are going to have to have a good defence. If you want to avoid relegation, you have to have a good defence. We have not been good enough defensively recently but the lads did a job today, but it was always going to be difficult coming here." (Observer)

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