independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Red-hot Suarez nets killer brace

Whatever medicine was administered to cure the bug vexing Anfield over the last few days, the tonic had a reassuringly therapeutic effect.

Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool team have never looked healthier than when inflicting punishment on Sunderland on what proved a torrid night for the visitors' manager Martin O'Neill.

Luis Suarez in mesmeric form; a second consecutive Premier League win (for only the second time this season); the multi-million pound signing of a new striker; the offloading of another wage burden in Joe Cole to West Ham; and the European places back within shooting distance.

They will be bringing out the bunting if the new year brings more nights like this in this stadium. Suarez and Raheem Sterling prolonged the festive celebrations with first-half goals against the North-East side, before the Uruguayan continued the masterclass with his 18th of the season in a comfortable 3-0 win.

Either way, having shaken off the ailment that caused him to miss the weekend's win at Queens Park Rangers, Rodgers had cause to be positively beaming after a comfortable victory.

Suarez, inevitably, took centre stage but this was as complete and dominant a performance as Rodgers has seen from his new side. He promised the new year would bring more glad tidings, and this was the perfect start. It could easily have been six. Even Jordan Henderson was superb.

As far as the Premier League goes, 2012 was barren for Liverpool. A meagre 46 points in the calendar year exposed the absurdity of pretensions of a swift return to the Champions League. Only QPR and Villa won less.

The reality is that they are in a battle to finish in the top six. At times in recent weeks that has looked optimistic. At others, like for most of this fixture, it has seemed like it should be a formality.

Such inconsistency makes the most formidable displays somewhat dangerous.

The last time Liverpool won twice on the run there was careless talk about finishing second, and there are always expressions of incredulity should anyone doubt the merit of the argument that they are on the rise again. The only acceptable measure of such a claim – consistently good (rather than erratic) results – still offers no compelling evidence to back up theories of a renaissance.

Yet there are occasions, such as when you are watching Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger in full flow, when the Kop phoenix looks ready to shake off those ashes.

Where there is heightened cause for hope is in the combined force of Suarez and the Anfield youth ranks. They have excelled every week and it was appropriate that this was the lethal combination for Liverpool's first goals of the new year. Sterling's resolution was to add goals to his repertoire of step-overs and shimmies, and the second of his Liverpool career came on 19 minutes.

Suarez pounced on Gerrard's headed clearance, before looping a defence-splitting pass, wrong-footing centre-halves Matt Kilgallon and Carlos Cuellar. Sterling chipped the onrushing goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, a cool finish, and Liverpool's bright start, during which Andre Wisdom and Stewart Downing also went close, was rewarded.

The lead should have lasted just three minutes, as Sunderland had their own positive moments early on. James McClean somehow missed the target when sent clear in the box by the diligent Steven Fletcher.

Suarez punished Sunderland's carelessness on 26 minutes. Cuellar tried to barge the South American off the ball but succeeded only in losing balance. That allowed the striker to run clear and finish with the outside of his right foot, Mignolet seemingly confounded by the audacity of the attempt.

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Pepe Reina denied Kilgallon with a double save before half-time, pushing wide after an instinctive block from a back-post volley as Sunderland rallied, but the lead should have been extended four minutes into the second half.

Sterling was again sent through by Suarez but this time his attempted chip was tame, drifting wide. The amnesty did not last. Suarez added his second on 53 minutes, superbly judging a 70-yard pass from Gerrard, allowing it to drift over his shoulder before nudging past Mignolet. Not so different from the goal against Sunderland's neighbours Newcastle earlier in the season.

Daniel Sturridge, signed for £12m yesterday and watching from the stands last night, must have been licking his lips at the prospect of joining forces with the South American. Mignolet prevented a Suarez hat-trick with a brave save with his legs on 69 minutes after Joe Allen's clever pass, and chances kept flowing.

It remains a period of transition, but Rodgers may also note Liverpool now need only one more win to equal the number of home victories for the whole of last season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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