Saturday 24 March 2018

New-look Reds fail to shine

Liverpool 1 Sunderland 1

Kenny Dalglish represents permanence at Anfield but he has never been afraid of change. Yesterday Liverpool's manager selected every important signing he has made since his return to the club and for 45 minutes it suggested that the new era had dawned.

An early goal by Luis Suarez and a first half in which every signing -- with the exception of Jordan Henderson -- suggested they had been worth the money offered hope.

In the long run, all that happened in the second half might work to Dalglish's advantage.

"It's always a big ordeal making your debut at Anfield," Dalglish said afterwards, "and some of them were a bit nervous."

As the game petered out and it became clear that Liverpool wouldn't win, the groans from the home supporters illustrated that expectation levels have not diminished following two seasons outside the top four.

Dalglish has said there is no need to manage expectations at the club but his side might have done that for him. For every solution in the first half, the second brought more questions. In the first 45 minutes, Liverpool played with cohesion and verve. In the second, they looked ragged and tired as Sunderland ended the game looking the team more likely to win.

Dalglish might not regret this. If Liverpool's first-half performance had been sustained some would have been confidently predicting a title victory, let alone a title challenge. Instead, the second half reminded them that there are still weaknesses in the squad as the first 11 tired and the replacements offered little.

Liverpool began the game with a purpose which suggested that their ambitions would know no limit.

Suarez was the surprise selection, starting despite only returning to training last Monday following Uruguay's Copa America victory. He didn't last 90 minutes but again demonstrated that he will be a menace and a pest this season.

His opening minutes were typical. When Kieran Richardson hesitated on the half-way line, Suarez charged the ball down and was through on goal. He went to go round Simon Mignolet but Richardson had got back and Suarez knew it. He went down, Phil Dowd awarded a penalty but Richardson got away with a yellow card.

The arrival of Charlie Adam should have ended all Liverpool's problems from set-pieces but Suarez took the penalty and may not be allowed take one again as he drove it high into the stand.

Liverpool didn't stop. Lucas was everywhere in midfield, winning the ball in all areas of the field while Adam showed his invention and Downing was a threat.

One of Suarez's strengths is his refusal to stop and the penalty miss didn't bother him. When Sunderland gave a free-kick away on the right, Adam didn't let anyone else take it. The delivery was vicious and Suarez reacted, heading the ball past Mignolet, who might have done better.

Liverpool looked unstoppable. Carroll had a goal disallowed after seeming to push Anton Ferdinand while Downing hit the bar after a run from his own half.

The rigidity of previous seasons was forgotten as all Liverpool's players looked to get forward if they could. Stephane Sessegnon could have equalised when Pepe Reina missed a Sebastian Larsson free-kick, but at that stage nobody looked worried.

The second half began with Adam fighting in midfield and then shooting over but Sunderland began to come forward and Liverpool looked exhausted. More specifically, Suarez looked exhausted and with him went Liverpool's invention.

In the first half, he had chased everything but he couldn't keep it up and Liverpool conceded possession. "Lucas and Luis have both been away and not played many games," Dalglish said. "There were six or seven of them with an excuse."

Steve Bruce on the other hand had tried a different approach with their summer signings. "It helps to drip-feed them in. I had to show some loyalty to the players who were so good last season."

The new signings settled, especially Wes Brown at the back. As the away side grew, Liverpool lost shape.

When Ahmed Elmohamady curled a cross to the far post, John Flanagan had lost concentration. Larsson had been one of Sunderland's better players in the first half and, with plenty of space, he spectacularly volleyed past Reina.

Sunderland were making more progress through midfield and Lucas and Adam, who had shown such control and industry, were beginning to struggle.

Adam was booked for a challenge on Lee Cattermole who had shown his new restrained personality by waiting until the 26th minute to pick up his first yellow card of the season.

Dirk Kuyt had replaced the unimpressive Henderson while Flanagan, who had been seen as the future, was illustrating why young players need to be eased in gently.

Some of their more experienced players might look for the same understanding. Carroll at least looked fit but while his touch was good in the first half, in the second he became an easy option when Liverpool were desperate for an easy option.

In the closing minutes, Sunderland pushed on, looking for a winner that seemed improbable during the first half.

Liverpool were now trying to work it all out with substitute Raul Meireles stranded on the left and Downing making bad decisions on the right.

At the end, Sunderland were content with the draw while some Liverpool fans talked about the sense of anti-climax.

They've experienced that before. Dalglish has experienced more and he might prefer to see it as realism.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport