So the start of the new season and a game that will sum up many team’s campaign from now until May 2012. A good start full of optimism and then, in the final half, an inability to carry it through. Look, I’m really trying not to say this was a game of two halves! But, clichés aside, it was.
The long awaited first line up saw four new signings blooded. Enrique, with the ink barely dry on his contract, was thrown straight into the mix at left back, while Adam, Henderson and Downing filled three of the four midfield berths. Perhaps Dirk Kuyt, our top scorer last season, felt unlucky to have missed out? Midfield is normally regarded as the key area of the pitch and here we are starting with three changes. A gamble maybe but we’ve signed these players for a reason so let’s get it going? In defence it was, to me anyway, a mild surprise that Kenny picked Flanagan ahead of Kelly for the right back slot.
Luis Suarez, despite his Copa America exertions, started and was involved from the very start. Many say Suarez has something “of the devil” in the way he plays. I’m not entirely sure what this means, if Suarez is the devil what, for example, is Joey Barton? However in the move that lead to our early penalty we saw both good and evil. Kieran Richardson’s clearance was charged down by Suarez who could have easily scored by taking the ball round Mignolet in the Sunderland goal. However, as Richardson caught up, and made some contact he went to ground. It was a clear penalty but should Richardson have seen red instead of yellow? Suarez felt so and gestured to the referee, I hope Kenny has a word, fellow professional solidarity and all that? One of the Sunday papers suggested that perhaps Suarez was tired after the Copa America however it probably took more effort to smash the kick towards Row Z of the Anfield Road End than the top corner of Mignolet’s goal!
So a “cracking” start to the season? Or perhaps a welcome “slap down” for those who thought that because we’ve spent all that money it would be wine and roses all the way! Thankfully before anyone had time to stupidly weigh up the potential significance of the first ten minutes on the rest of our season, we moved on to something else. Suarez was bought down by Wes Brown. Charlie Adam did what he was bought to do and swooped in a dangerous free kick in towards Suarez’s head, this time there was no mistake. There you go, from losers to world beaters in twelve minutes!
After that we made a decent fist of things. Andy Carroll had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out for rather innocuous nudge on Ferdinand. Then Charlie Adam, from distance, tested the keeper who did well to tip over. However, Mignolet had no chance from Downing’s shot after he cut inside, beat a couple of men and crashed a shot against the cross bar. It was a good half, although Sunderland forced a few corners, we dominated play and, by and large, looked comfortable and eager to please knocking the ball around confidently and suggesting it was only a matter of time before we built on Suarez’s goal. All the new boys made a good start.
Sadly in second half we were made to regret missing our first half chances as Sunderland came more and more into the game. Enrique nearly set Carroll up who should have done better with a chance from the resulting corner. However Sunderland played their way back into the game and fist half expectations were dampered to the extent that it wasn’t really a surprise to see Larsson volleying home Elmohamady’s right wing cross. Reina had no chance but perhaps Flanagan should have done better and picked up the Swede? From then on we were more tentative and the Sunderland more confident. Rather than us laying siege in an attempt to get a winner we were forced to defend as the game become more even.
Both sets of fans will maintain that they could, and should, have won which is why a draw is probably the fair result? Inevitably people will draw a comparison between this and the fifteen goals we conceded pre season however, it is a new team we should be patient. There is a long way to go between now and May and anyone who uses this game to start assessing how we will do is a fool.
Liverpool: Reina, Jose Enrique, Agger, Carragher, Flanagan, Henderson (Kuyt 60 yellow card), Downing, Lucas, Adam, Suarez (Meireles 75), Carroll Substitutes: Doni, Kelly, Robinson, Meireles, Spearing, Kuyt, Ngog
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Brown, Richardson, Ferdinand, Cattermole, Larsson (Vaughan 80), Colback, Elmohamady, Sessegnon, Gyan (Ji 66) Substitutes: Westwood, Bramble, Laing, Gardner, Vaughan, Wickham, Ji