Sunderland lost 2-0 away at Liverpool in a game where our defensive resiliency could not withstand the 90 minutes to keep out a persistent Liverpool side. A second-half goal from Origi followed by a last-minute penalty by James Milner was enough to see off Sunderland, who find themselves back at the bottom of the table going into December.
When Victor Anichebe dominated proceedings away at Bournemouth, I don't think anyone was expecting him to improve on that performance in the next home game. Anichebe's display against Hull was nothing short of scintillating, with a physical presence not inferior to that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fernando Llorente, Marouane Fellaini, or even Niall Quinn in his prime — it was bizarre to watch. Despite arriving on a free transfer, he has established himself as a sure starter at Sunderland. It was no surprise to find him back in the starting XI.
Jones, Kone, O'Shea, van Aanholt,
Watmore, Denayer, NDong,
With Djilobodji suspended and McNair suffering an ACL injury, O'Shea and Pienaar were named in the starting XI. Sunderland can't really afford another injury, so the hope was that O'Shea could at least last 90 minutes.
Liverpool engineered the first chance of the game, but Roberto Firmino's speculative strike was gathered easily by Jordan Pickford, whose stock continues to rise game upon game. David Moyes admitted this week that Pickford may be sold in January, if the right offer came in. The realism of Moyes is somewhat drab and dour, but we have to accept that Sunderland's financial position makes the sale of an asset like Pickford a huge priority, and we shouldn't be ashamed of selling a player we have harboured and nurtured ourselves.
Phillipe Coutinho was the primary threat for Liverpool, whether creating or looking to have a go himself. After he picked out Wijnaldum on the edge of the box, the Dutchman managed a powerful turning strike to the left of Pickford, but the keeper read it well and gathered efficiently.
After Pienaar won a corner, the ball was delivered by van Aanholt only to be cleared by the home side. NDong gathered and played it back to Billy Jones in his own half, who hoofed it forward and over the Liverpool defence, into the path of Pienaar. The ball was just a little too volatile on the bounce however, and Pienaar couldn't get a shot away before the keeper cleared his lines. A good idea from Jones, who was enjoying probably his best form in a Sunderland shirt after three excellent performances in a row before today.
A comedy of errors nearly saw Liverpool played in on goal, with the ball ricocheting between Sunderland midfielders. The home side were sloppy in the opening half hour, however, unable to do anything particularly dangerous in possession and wasting any sight of goal. NDong against Henderson in the centre was proving a hot contest, with the Wearside-born Liverpool player generally getting the better of Didier.
Jason Denayer was playing well again, which was even more impressive given he was assigned the task of mark-marking Phillipe Coutinho, who is as crafty and agile as you will find anywhere in the Premier League. Having said that, I imagine that Denayer was still relieved when Coutinho went off injured just after half an hour, as facetious as that may be. Origi was the replacement.
A long, searching free kick from Henderson found big Dejan Lovren completely unmarked at the back post, where he was allowed a free header across Pickford which thankfully sailed wide of the mark. Despite our general stability at the back, mistakes like those are why we keep leaking goals against the run of play, especially as several Sunderland players were left scratching their heads after, unsure who was supposed to be picking him up. We were tested again by a near-post corner, but it was fudged by Emre Can, who failed to find the target.
Though Liverpool started to breach our 18-yard box in the latter stages of the first half, chances were still scrappy and Pickford coped well with any pressure he was put under. Half time arrived and our lads must have been grateful for a break, with Liverpool doing their very best to turn the match into a real pressure cooker.
You could only praise the work ethic of Anichebe and Watmore for their dynamic defending on each wing. Jones and particularly van Aanholt are intent on getting forward whenever they can, which leaves us very vulnerable at the back if we have players who aren't willing to fill in for the full backs. Denayer also gives us an extra man there, as his awareness is excellent in that respect; he clearly knows how to play just in front of the centre backs.
Liverpool continued to put pressure on us after the restart, their first real chance presenting itself after a fantastic ball over the top from Can. Once again, and fortunately, another mis-kick in front of goal kept Sunderland in the game, with the stretching effort just evading the far post as well as the encroaching Liverpool players. Sunderland were hanging by a thread, and needed to stop Liverpool from being given so much room outside the 18-yard box, where they were mainly opting to shoot but occasionally managed to thread a threatening pass.
Liverpool's Matip is a player I'm unfamiliar with, and one who looked particularly shaky even under the very occasional pressure that Sunderland put on him. At the other end of the pitch, however, Liverpool liked like they were just about getting warm, with Emre Can now eyeing the goal and looking to deprive Pickford of his second clean sheet of the season.
An incredible two-minute spell arrived after van Aanholt was brought down around 25 yards from goal. It wasn't the first time he'd ran with the ball, but this was the only occasion on which he'd gained something from it. While he powered the free kick into the wall, Liverpool failed to clear their lines and the ball ended up at the feet of big Vic. Anichebe spotted Watmore ahead of him and found Duncan with a well-weighted pass, but Watmore's first touch let him down and by the time he came to take a shot the keeper had already smothered it. Liverpool then went straight up the other end and created a dangerous chance of their own, before winning a free kick inside the D. Henderson took it, but the venomous strike flashed over the top, to Pickford's relief.
A Liverpool corner sent the ball bouncing around the box before Mane found space at the far post. His quick-fire shot was charged down by Denayer, however, who was having an excellent game. Unfortunately, we could not keep Liverpool at bay.
GOAL – Liverpool – Origi – 75 mins
Substitute Origi found himself with the ball on the left-hand side of the box. He turned Watmore a little too easily before setting himself to strike the ball. While everyone was expecting a cross, the ball curled around our waiting defence and bounced out of reach of Pickford, into the net. I'm not entirely convinced that he meant the shot, but putting the ball into that kind of area is almost a guaranteed goal anyway, so credit for an excellent delivery even if it was meant to be a cross. It made no difference to Sunderland, however, who were now trailing 1-0 with just 15 minutes left.
Sunderland made a double sub, bringing Januzaj and Gooch on for Watmore and Pienaar, but it didn't really benefit our chance creation. Liverpool were still piling pressure on us and they still looked a lot more likely to score than we did. Lucas Leiva was introduced to see out the last five minutes of the game, and he gave Liverpool an extra element of composure when hanging onto the ball, frustrating Sunderland further.
Liverpool broke with Mane showing his excellent pace down the right. Denayer matched him for pace and was trying to apply just enough pressure to put the Liverpool player off his game, mindful that he couldn't win the tackle without giving away a foul. While Denayer wasn't willing to bring Mane down, NDong stormed in and slid, missing the ball completely and clattering Mane to give away the penalty in the 90th minute. What was the point of Denayer busting a gut to stay on his feet if Ndong was going to come steaming in and give away a penalty? Really annoying.
GOAL – Liverpool – Milner – 90 mins
The ever reliable James Milner stepped up to seal victory for the home side, deflating Sunderland and reducing our performance to nothing but a bit of organised huffing and puffing. Nevermind.
Final score: Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland
ALS Man of the Match: Jason Denayer
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