Liverpool need time
LIVERPOOL FC provided an exciting glimpse of the future before the reality of the present dampened the party spirit.
For 45 minutes on the opening day Anfield buzzed with excitement as Kenny Dalglish’s new-look side lived up to the hype.
It was the start supporters had dreamed of since the previous campaign finished with a whimper at Villa Park 12 weeks earlier.
With nearly £50million of fresh talent on display in front of principal owner John Henry, Liverpool flew out of the traps. They rediscovered the brand of slick, attacking football which symbolised their revival under Dalglish last term.
The adrenaline was pumping and the Reds were rampant. New faces made big contributions and Luis Suarez’s header was scant reward considering the extent of their first-half dominance.
By the break the contest should have been over. The fact it wasn’t hinged largely on a combination of dismal refereeing and plain misfortune.
Given the one-sided nature of the game, the slender size of the Reds’ advantage appeared to be of little concern but the interval halted their momentum.
The onslaught couldn’t be maintained and they lost their way.
“We have to manage expectations,” Dalglish wrote in his programme notes. His players went some way to doing that during a second half in which the occasion fell decidedly flat.
The cohesion and energy so evident in the first half were sadly lacking with no response forthcoming after Sebastian Larsson’s equaliser.
Ultimately, Sunderland were good value for their point as frustration descended on Anfield.
In truth what transpired was hardly much of a surprise.
After all this was a Liverpool side who had never played together before and pre-season wasn’t exactly plain sailing with so many stars returning at different times.
Many of the friendlies were simply exercises in putting players surplus to requirements in the shop window.
Fatigue certainly played its part on Saturday. Suarez and Lucas both faded after a lively start and are still trying to regain sharpness after time off following the Copa America.
The Reds’ summer spending spree has rightly fuelled optimism but they’re going to take time to gel.
The manager handed debuts to all four of his major new signings on Saturday and at this stage it’s a work in progress.
Some have been short of game time in pre-season and you can’t expect a team with so many new faces to click as a unit instantly.
Jose Enrique’s move from Newcastle had only been completed 24 hours earlier and he would have been on the bench but for Fabio Aurelio pulling up lame once again.
In fairness Enrique impressed and certainly looks like he possesses all the qualities needed to solve the long-running left-back problem. The Spaniard linked up well with Stewart Downing and whipped in a couple of tantalising crosses.
Downing began with real intent and only the crossbar denied him a dream debut goal after a mesmerising run from inside his own half.
There’s no question the winger will add balance as well as another dimension to the Reds’ attacking play, but like so many of his team-mates his influence on the game waned as the afternoon wore on.
On the other flank Jordan Henderson remained largely on the periphery against his former club before making way for Dirk Kuyt.
The pick of the new boys was undoubtedly Charlie Adam. The Scotsman ran the midfield in the first half, snapping into tackles and using the ball intelligently.
It’s a big leap from Blackpool to Anfield but Adam already looks at home. He created the opening goal for Suarez with a pinpoint free-kick and underlined his confidence by stinging Simon Mignolet’s finger tips from distance.
Even in the second half when Liverpool floundered, Adam continued to take the fight to the Black Cats and looked the most likely to make something happen.
After so much anticipation ahead of the big day, a draw felt like a defeat but it could have been so different.
Two seasons ago at the Stadium of Light, a beach ball famously came to Sunderland’s aid. On Saturday they had Phil Dowd to thank for a helping hand in thwarting the Reds again.
When Kieran Richardson sent Suarez sprawling in the box inside the opening five minutes as he rounded Mignolet, it was a nailed on dismissal.
It was the definition of a professional foul yet somehow Dowd allowed Richardson to escape with a yellow card. The feeling of injustice around Anfield was intensified after Suarez sent the spot-kick sailing over the bar. Suarez swiftly made amends by capitalising on some woeful marking to nod home but Liverpool were left cursing the officials again midway through the half.
Andy Carroll finished neatly but had his celebrations curtailed after being harshly penalised for a push on Anton Ferdinand.
It shouldn’t have mattered because Liverpool were in total control but ultimately Dalglish was left counting the cost of those two decisions.
There was a let off for the Reds early in the second half when Asamoah Gyan headed tamely at Pepe Reina.
But they failed to heed the warning and in the 57th minute some slack marking gifted Larsson the space he needed to volley home Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross.
Teenager John Flanagan was a surprise selection ahead of Martin Kelly at right-back and it was a tough afternoon for the youngster. But to his credit his head never dropped and he will learn from the experience.
Liverpool couldn’t raise themselves after conceding and there was no barnstorming finish. No laying siege to the Sunderland penalty box.
In fact the only talking point of the closing stages was substitute Raul Meireles’ mohican as the Reds ran out of both steam and ideas.
At the end there was a sense of anti-climax. This was a missed opportunity and two points spurned.
Yet in the cold light of day there was plenty to be positive about.
It wasn’t the start Liverpool hoped for but perhaps one we should have expected.
Patience is required as better days lie ahead.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina, Flanagan, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Henderson (Kuyt 60), Lucas, Adam, Downing, Suarez (Meireles 75), Carroll. Not used: Doni, Spearing, Ngog, Kelly, Robinson
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet, Bardsley, Brown, Ferdinand, Richardson, Elmohammady, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson (Vaughan 80), Sessegnon, Gyan (Ji 66).Not used: Westwood, Gardner, Wickham, Bramble, Laing . Not used: Westwood, Gardner, Wickham, Bramble, Laing
GOALS: Suarez (12mins), Larsson (57min).CARDS: Carragher, Henderson, Adam, Kuyt (Liverpool - all booked); Bardsley, Richardson, Cattermole, Larsson (Sunderland - all booked)
REFEREE: Phil Dowd
GOALS: Suarez (12mins), Larsson (57min).
CARDS: Carragher, Henderson, Adam, Kuyt (Liverpool - all booked); Bardsley, Richardson, Cattermole, Larsson (Sunderland - all booked)
REFEREE: Phil Dowd
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