Sunday 17 December 2017

Klopp left fuming as Defoe dents Liverpool title hopes

Sunderland 2-2 Liverpool

Simon Mignolet narrowly fails to prevent Jermain Defoe scoring from the penalty spot for Sunderland. Photo: Reuters
Simon Mignolet narrowly fails to prevent Jermain Defoe scoring from the penalty spot for Sunderland. Photo: Reuters

Michael Walker

Liverpool have blinked. In the staring match with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp's men had the rare advantage of playing before Antonio Conte's, but after an enterprising opening 20 minutes during which Daniel Sturridge gave the visitors the lead, weariness caught up on Liverpool.

Twice in front, twice Liverpool allowed third-bottom Sunderland to come back - each time through a Jermain Defoe penalty.

It meant that instead of narrowing the gap to three points, and putting pressure on Chelsea before they go to Tottenham on Wednesday, the space is now five points.

Klopp was infuriated with referee Anthony Taylor and at the final whistle the German was on the pitch giving the official his opinion of the 84th-minute free-kick Taylor awarded to Defoe. It was for an alleged foul by Lucas Leiva on Defoe and it led to the second equaliser.

Klopp had a case. The free-kick was soft, but there was still time to organise an effective wall as Seb Larsson prepared to take the kick. Liverpool did, or so they thought, with Sadio Mane on the end. But when Larsson struck from the 'D', Mane's right arm stopped the ball; Taylor was given no choice.

Defoe stepped up. This was a big moment for Sunderland as well as Liverpool, but the former England striker was nerveless. He drilled in his 11th goal of the season - Defoe now has 11 of his team's 19 league goals this season. No wonder Moyes calls him "priceless".

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

After the 4-1 mauling at Burnley on Saturday, this was a stabilising result for Moyes.

Shambolic

He had termed the performance at Turf Moor "shambolic". This was a much more organised, coherent effort, in which stand-in goalkeeper Vito Mannone, Defoe and Adnan Januzaj stood out.

Yet had Liverpool been in the form we have seen at times this season, then surely Sunderland would have been eased aside.

Sunderland's Jermain Defoe scored twice from the spot against Liverpool
Sunderland's Jermain Defoe scored twice from the spot against Liverpool

Missing his captain, Jordan Henderson, Klopp moved Emre Can into that midfield pivotal role. There were spells when Can was subdued, and that spread to his colleagues.

But not initially. With Sturridge in up front and Adam Lallana moving back to join Can and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, Liverpool began to weave those patterns of theirs.

Sunderland sat back to contain but they also offered glimpses of attacking of their own and Defoe and Jack Rodwell both made former Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet make saves.

But Mannone was busier at the other end. His first block on a hectic afternoon was from Sturridge on seven minutes. Another from Wijnaldum followed seconds later, then Sturridge again and then there was almost a Larsson own goal. It was eventful and this was all before Liverpool scored - in the 19th minute.

It was a bad goal defensively. James Milner's corner was met by the unmarked Dejan Lovren 14 yards out; his scuffed shot bounced nicely for the unmarked Sturridge, four yards out, to nod over Mannone. Sunderland's defenders looked at each other blankly.

Liverpool's superiority was assumed, but just five minutes later it was 1-1. Didier Ndong squeezed himself between Wijnaldum and Ragnar Klavan and went down in the Liverpool area.

As penalties go, it could not be called 'nailed-on'. Maybe stapled on, or attached by paper clip. But Taylor gave it and Defoe, naturally, thought only about the consequence. He buried it.

Two minutes on, Defoe was thwarted by Mignolet in a one-on-one, so it could have been worse for Liverpool than 1-1 at half-time.

The vitality we associate with Klopp was missing. Indeed, the travelling fans were singing for Divock Origi when Mane struck on 72 minutes.

Sturridge and Lallana exchanged a one-two, Mannone palmed away Sturridge's effort and from the resulting corner, taken by Alberto Moreno, Sunderland's Papy Djilobodji flicked the ball backwards to the unmarked Mane, who stabbed home.

Liverpool's task was to close the game down from there. They almost did but when Lucas and Defoe tussled, Defoe went to ground. Taylor gave the free-kick and that led to the equaliser.

There was still enough time for Liverpool to force a couple of scrambles and for the unceasing Lallana to test Mannone again. But it was not to be. It's Manchester United away next for Klopp and Co. Over to Chelsea.

Independent News Service

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