Coming into the first game of the year 2013, both the teams had very different outings over the weekend with Liverpool comprehensively beating QPR 3-0 and Sunderland losing to Tottenham 1-2 at home. Yet as the season has showed us – every game is a fresh start and both teams were hoping to start the year with a win, although only one succeeded.
Liverpool started the game brightly, pressing from the start and immediately earned a free-kick outside the box in a dangerous position, one which Sunderland shot-stopper Mignolet had to stretch in order to avoid an ever-confident Stewart Downing from scoring inside the first ten minutes. Liverpool kept pressing and the breakthrough came in the sixteenth minute after a fine lob pass from Luis Suarez was met by a sprinting Raheem Sterling who then chipped the ball perfectly above the head of a charging Mignolet into the back of the net for Liverpool’s opener and his second league goal of the season. Liverpool had their tails up, and with the crowd behind them, it was not long before they increased their lead through none other than Luis Suarez, who, even after being tackled hard on the right wing, picked himself up and drove a hard and low shot past the keeper to double Liverpool’s advantage and put the home team firmly into the driving seat.
0-2 within the first half hour was not the kind of start Martin’ O Neill’s side wanted and they started to push and exert themselves on a partly complacent Liverpool defence and almost pegged one back when youngster James McClean found himself one-on-one with Pepe Reina, only to drag his shot wide of the post. Liverpool were particularly quick on the counter with Suarez and Sterling quick off the blocks and had a few chances to put the game beyond doubt in the first half itself but could not, and the teams headed into the tunnel with the score-line at 2-0. The three points were far from secure, although on the 147 previous occasions that Liverpool had lead 2-0 at half-time at home, they had never lost and had drawn only twice.
Liverpool picked up in the second half from where they had left off and soon a trademark Gerrard long ball saw Suarez run free through the middle and slot the ball calmly past Mignolet for Liverpool’s third goal of the night. Liverpool had wrapped up the match now and looked set to inflict more misery on Sunderland. They almost made it four when Allen found Suarez with a brilliant pass over the defender only for him to be stopped by a charging Mignolet; the Uruguayan is yet to score a hat-trick at Anfield.
The Reds kept pushing and could have scored two more had it not been for slight offsides; the two goals, had they stood, would have opened Allen’s and Suso’s Liverpool account as well. Phil Dowd’s full-time whistle was met with a loud cheer from the crowd and the Reds will be proud of their start given last year they received a 3-0 humbling at the hands of eventual champions Manchester City at the Etihad. Two consecutive league wins, along with two consecutive clean sheets, and an air of optimism exists among the Anfield faithful that the Brendan ‘effect’ is finally showing. In all, Liverpool have won five of their previous seven league games, something which has seen them surge up to eighth in the league table, within touching distance of seventh-placed West Brom. With the signing of Chelsea star Daniel Sturridge, they will be hoping that the current goal-fest continues, one which has seen them score eleven goals in the past four league games.
The Reds’ next league encounter is a tough away trip to leaders and arch-rivals Manchester United whereas Sunderland entertain West Ham at home.
Man of the Match: Luis Suarez – The Uruguayan has not only got the bulk of the league goals this season for Liverpool FC, but has more often than not been the difference between the two teams and that was the case again today as he helped Liverpool to victory, with two goals and an assist. His work ethic, movement and cleverness while on the field are what make him very tough to play against and one of the best in the Premier League; once again he got the better of Sunderland back Carlos Cuellar on more than one occasion.
Flop of the Match: Sebastian Larsson – The Swedish free-kick specialist gave out an insipid performance display and was slow in his movements. Larsson who scored a spectacular volley last season to earn the Black Cats a 1-1 draw was way off the mark and could not cope up with the swift passing of the Liverpool midfield. He was not able to break up play and inter-link with the lonely Steven Fletcher upfront; his substitution in the sixty-second minute echoed the Manager’s disappointment with his performance.