Liverpool were slightly fortunate to win this. That’s not to say that we didn’t play well (especially in defence), it’s just worth acknowledging that Sunderland probably had the better of the first half until Jay Spearing was awarded a lucky penalty, and even after that we didn’t create too many chances. We should be pleased to have got three points, especially as we have generally been poor in our away fixtures after mid-week European games, and there were a few positives/lessons we can take from this performance.
1. Let me start by highlighting the excellent performance of Lucas Leiva in central midfield. Although he was no better or worse than usual today, it is impressive that he showed no signs of tiredness after the birth of his baby son Pedro Lucas on Friday night. Also, it is nothing new, but for a player at times unfairly maligned by fans and media, his closing down was phenomenal, breaking up Sunderland attacks time after time, ensuring that they couldn’t cause us any problems down the middle (credit for this must go to Spearing too, see below). His timing of challenge, as well as his quality of positioning and anticipation were again evident today. He also looked comfortable moving forward with the ball into space when given the opportunity, most notably with his excellent through-pass for Andy Carroll in the 42nd minute. Although we didn’t learn much new about Lucas from his performance against Sunderland, it seems kind to mark the birth of his son by acknowledging that he has become one of Liverpool’s most important players. Admittedly, this is partly because of the reduced competition from Mascherano, Alonso and Torres in recent seasons.
2. It is probably indicative of the fact this was a solid, cautious performance rather than an overwhelming victory of attacking play, that young Jay Spearing was another of Liverpool’s best players today. I have generally been unconvinced by Spearing: he is quite an impetuous, old-fashioned-English-style midfielder whose use of possession is sometimes poor. I always felt that he would surely have been a centre-back were it not for his slightness of height and build. And, although the comparison may seem lazy, his game has aspects of both Carragher’s and Gerrard’s – scrappy, sometimes wasteful, not especially measured or intelligent in his use of the ball, but occasionally excellent, always committed and hard-working. Today, though, his defensive qualities shone through, tracking back effectively and ‘sweeping up’ very tidily. His passing and running was good too, and he is to be commended for the tenacity which eventually won Liverpool the penalty which Kuyt calmly dispatched (to maintain his 100% penalty record for Liverpool). It goes without saying that he is far more useful than Poulsen.
3. Passes to the feet of Suarez are still, at least for now, significantly more effective than balls to the head of Carroll. Carroll is certainly the best header of a ball I’ve ever seen, both in terms of the force of his attacking headers and the accurate control of his knock-downs, but he looked off the pace today. Suarez was regularly frustrated by his clunky build-up play, and, in the same way that the introduction of the big Geordie slowed things down against United, we looked sharper and more dangerous after he was replaced by N’Gog this afternoon. He needs to work on the speed of his feet, especially on the turn, if he is to be of use to us as anything other than a Heskey-style ‘big man up front.’ I have faith, though, that as he begins to strike up a relationship with Suarez and regains his full fitness, he’ll be of tremendous help to us as we push for 5th place.