Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunderland 0-2 Liverpool – Talking Points

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 HeHHasdas 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.


  1. Hey mate, I came here through your plug on Tomkin's blog :p Really enjoyed your take on the game and I'd like to add my thoughts to it too especially regarding Caroll. It was obvious he had just come back from a long lay off, he's touch and decision making was very slow at times just wrong. Having not seen him play for Newcastle but hearing great things, I don't think it's something to be worried about. The fact that he got into those positions, made those runs and passes that if he had been game fit would have been great plays. Regarding the target man thing you bring up, am I wrong in thinking it was Carragher who was lumping the ball to him 9/10? Even when a simple pass was on, he's so willing to hoof it every time he gets he ball. Caroll received pointless hoofs after another from him no matter where he was or who was around him, his link play through knock downs is harsh to judge as it has more to do with Carragher than him. Carragher is such a detriment to our team nowadays, Caroll would have got less than half the hoofs aimed at him with Carragher out of the team and a higher percentage of clever 'hoofs' if there are such things haha
    Also apparently Skrtel has been getting a lot of flak recently but he was the best defender on the pitch IMO, he won so many balls in the air (which people seem to suggest he can't even do) and covered well on the ground too. With and Agger fit I see no reason why Carragher should even be on the pitch.

  2. Hi Amit, thanks for your thoughts, I think all your points are very fair.

    Re: Carroll, I don't have any particular worries about him, he was clearly unfit. And don't get me wrong, I think his target-man play is absolutely exceptional, he really works hard to gain possession in advanced positions. My only thought is that L'pool's best performance this season was probably against Man United when we played incredibly dynamic, fluid, fast-paced attacking football with plenty of good movement from Suarez, Kuyt, Meireles, Maxi etc. My worry is that if Carroll isn't able to assimilate himself entirely into a team playing those kind of tactics, and it does indeed turn out to be our most effective method of play, then there's the chance he'll turn out to be a very expensive and very talented plan B. His passing and movement was quite good at times against S'land though, so we shouldn't worry about him at least until next season, after he's bedded in and we can see what he's all about.

    Re: Carragher, I would generally agree with you. The game against Braga was a better example of what you're talking about, I think, just constantly choosing to hoof it from deep. The fact is, Carra is essentially limited - he has ALWAYS been very poor with the ball at his feet, he moves very slowly and we've all seen the way he stops, puts his foot on the ball and lifts his right leg up, looking for a pass which, of course, becomes too easy for the opposing team to anticipate. I have sympathy for him against S'land though because he really isn't a right-back, and was just filling in there out of necessity. His defensive play is still good (perhaps not as good as Agger's or, indeed, Skrtel's) and he has been a loyal servant to the club for about 15 years. But I agree that it's time for him to become more of a squad player, assuming we buy a quality left-back this summer there's no reason for him to be anything other than a back-up centre-back next season. I can see him as a future L'pool manager though, apparently his knowledge of the game is immense and his organisational skills are clearly exceptional.