Attractive, swashbuckling and penetrative attacking football. This a sight Liverpool fans have grown accustomed to seeing, having witnessed the Reds skyrocket to the top of the goalscoring charts, yielding a staggering 82 goals in 30 games going into last night’s clash with Sunderland.
It was perhaps unsurprising that Gus Poyet went with five at the back in a bid to curb the free-scoring hosts’ attacking threat. It looked to have paid dividends, with his men rather successfully keeping Liverpool at bay for the majority of the first half and limiting them to a number of hopeful attempts from distance as they remained tight, organised and disciplined.
Even more impressive though was Liverpool’s composure and effectiveness on the ball, steadily building from the back time and again after having their exploits in the final third come to nothing. Surging forward persistently and purposefully, they chipped away at the Black Cats’ faltering resistance and sure enough, the breakthrough came in the 39th minute, albeit from a set-piece. Steven Gerrard unerringly smashed the ball into the top corner after Santiago Vergini cynically brought Luis Suarez down on the edge of the box.
It seemed like it was only going to get better and better for Liverpool as they piled on the pressure, looking to ram home the advantage and kill the game off. And it looked like they had done just that just three minutes after the restart when Daniel Sturridge fired the ball past Vito Mannone and into the top corner to bag his 20th Premier League goal of the season.
It was plain sailing for the hosts from this point on with Liverpool dictating play and looking a threat on almost every attack. The game looked all but sealed - until the 76th minute, when substitute Ki Sung-Yueng managed to sneak in behind Jon Flanagan and head home unmarked from point-blank range.
A nervy 17 minutes ensued with Sunderland, now filled with a renewed sense of belief, throwing bodies forward and for the first time in the game caused the Liverpool defence problems. The visitors almost got a late equaliser when an unmarked John O’Shea, with the goal at his mercy, failed to connect with the ball. Liverpool had survived.
Now a point off league leaders Chelsea and two points clear of Manchester City (who have two games in hand), and with both teams still to play at Anfield, it’s fair to say that Brendan Rodgers’s men are in a fantastic position to win the title.
Or so it seems. If anything, last night’s game showed exactly why Liverpool might have to wait a little longer for their much-coveted 19th league title.
The team’s overall lack of experience at this level, in the thick of the title race at this stage of the season, is telling. Dominating possession and leading comfortably at 2-0 with a good chunk of the second half still to play, you’d expect a team of this calibre to see the rest of the game out comfortably.
What was even more surprising was the team’s response to having let the opposition back into the game; they were completely unnerved and uncomfortable on the ball. The composure on the ball shown earlier in the game had completely dissipated.
Mindset, mentality and concentration. These are three factors that will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in winning this title race and these are the three aspects of the game that Liverpool have to sort out - and fast.