A crowd of 44,716 gathered into Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Sunderland knowing, after the comfortable midweek win against Leicester, that three points could take the home side to only 3 points from 4th place. In the other dugout Sunderland had slipped to 14th after a midweek master class saw Manchester City take all three points away from the Stadium of Light, but were hoping they could find the form of the previous weekend in which they took a well-deserved point from leaders Chelsea.
Sunderland didn’t have the best of records at Anfield and were coming into this encounter having not won a game in their last 15 attempts losing eight and drawing seven, but there was still hope as seven of the last eleven goals scored against them by Liverpool were netted by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, both who would not be present.
The team line ups again brought up questions with captain Steven Gerrard being left on the bench for the second weekend running, maybe with the midweek clash with Basel in the back of Brendan Rodgers’ mind, but still this came as a shock after his stunning man of the match display on Wednesday night at the King Power against Leicester. This left Jordan Henderson and Lucas to anchor in the midfield with Liverpool lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Rickie Lambert again leading the line for the Reds. Sunderland manager Gus Poyet made five changes to the team that crumbled under the might of Manchester City in midweek, including a first Premier League start for underperforming American striker Jozy Altidore as a lone target man, heading their 4-5-1 formation.
The game started at a blistering pace and the first talking point came in the 3rd minute when Connor Wickham was caught by a stray Martin Skrtel foot inside the Liverpool penalty box but referee Neil Swarbrick wasn’t moved and waved away Sunderland’s penalty appeals. After this fantastic start Sunderland controlled the opening 20 minutes, creating a number of chances and also dominating possession, having 60% to Liverpool’s 40%, but were unable to grab the opening goal.
Liverpool began to kick-start after the 20th minute and had a chance in the 23rd minute when Adam Lallana did brilliantly to beat his man and find a cross which Rickie Lambert got his head to but put the ball wide of the Sunderland goal.
In the 36th minute Sunderland had another penalty shout waved away by referee Swarbrick, after Wickham went down under a challenge from Lucas, but after a second view there looked very little in it and the referee made the correct decision.
The game then went flat for 10 minutes with both teams seeing a lot of the ball in the middle of the park but not really pushing on and creating chances; but, the game came alive again in the last couple of minutes of the first half with both teams pushing to find the opening goal and the best chance of the first half fell to Sunderland’s Wes Brown. An excellent corner from Sebastian Larsson found Wes Brown unmarked in the Liverpool 6 yard area but he somehow managed to put the ball over the bar when the chance looked easier to score.
The teams came out from the half-time break in the same manner the game started, but this time the emphasis was on Liverpool. Some early pressure saw a chance for Coutinho who fluffed his lines. In the 49th minute it was Liverpool’s turn to shout for a penalty after some good work by Raheem Sterling; his cross seemed to hit Gomez on the hand but Swarbrick was again reluctant to point to the spot and waved play on.
Sunderland began to find their feet in the 55th minute and Connor Wickham had two chances to give Sunderland the lead but he failed to hit the target with both the attempts. The game then went flat again with both teams tussling for possession and trying their hand from long range but nothing that troubled either goalkeeper.
The game changed again in the 66th minute when Steven Gerrard was introduced, taking the armband of vice-captain Jordan Henderson. Straight away Liverpool looked a reformed side moving the ball with purpose and this was shown as Coutinho had two good chances to win the game for Liverpool. First he had a volley well blocked but the second was the chance of the game. A brilliant run by Sterling saw the starlet beat 4 Sunderland players before squaring the ball to Coutinho who was in acres of space on the edge of the area but shot straight at Pantilimon in the Sunderland goal.
The game went into the final ten minutes with both teams still looking for the break through with Sunderland coming close in the 82nd minute, when Gomez had a curling effort from 20 yards out saved brilliantly by Mignolet, silencing his critics for the time. The final action of the game saw another penalty shout, this time to Liverpool, when Raheem Sterling seemed to be brought down by the outstretched leg of Wes Brown, after a mazy run but again referee Swarbrick waved the claims away and the match ended 0 – 0.
After dropping points again Liverpool don’t have much to celebrate after another poor showing in front of the Kop but the return of form to Raheem Sterling will give them a welcome lift with Daniel Sturridge out until the new year and Mario Balotelli facing a ban from the FA after an inappropriate tweet.