Monday, March 29, 2010 by Paul Grech
On afternoons like this, it is justifiable to ask just why Liverpool haven’t played in this manner earlier in the season. Fast passing football, players moving when they had the ball and pressing hard when they didn’t: it was as if the team finally remembered how to play. Sunderland simply couldn’t cope with and will leave Anfield feeling lucky that they lost by just three goals. Lee Catermole and Lorik Cana, so impressive at the Stadium of Light, barely got a touch of the ball, Darren Bent completely anonymous and Frazier Campbell, so outspoken before the game, was so bad that there wasn’t even the need to boo him.
A spectator for most of the game, Pepe Reina was still alert enough to turn away Bolo Zenden’s late shot. Similarly, Jamie Carragher didn’t have much to do although that changed once Kenwyne Jones came on with the physical presence that he brought with him. Daniel Agger will go home wondering how he didn’t get to score. Craig Gordon pulled off a couple of great saves off him and on another couple of occasions he wasn’t decisive enough. Still, the way he brought the ball out of defence was a reminder of just how good he can be.
It is a sign of Emiliano Insua’s character that, despite the criticism that was aimed his way after last week, he played with such confidence today. Good when going forward, nothing that the highly rated Jordan Henderson did seemed to trouble him.
On the other flank, Glen Johnson put in the kind of performance that will eventually shut up the critics who think that Liverpool paid too much for him. Not only did he score the second goal but he also had the vision to set up the third and overall his running caused Sunderland headaches throughout the afternoon. My man of the match.
During the week, there were those who questioned the utility of having someone like Javier Mascherano and this wasn’t really a game where he could highlight his talents. The truth, however, is that there aren’t many other players in the world who are as good as Mascherano in a defensive midfield role.
By his own admission, Steven Gerrard hasn’t been playing as well as in recent seasons but, perhaps aided by being withdrawn to a more traditional position in the centre of midfield, he was much more influential than of late.
If there’s a player who is living proof that Rafael Benitez will do what is best for the side, then Ryan Babel is surely that. Indeed, from being on the verge of leaving in January he now has a semi-permanent spot on the left, something that is partly due to the effort that he has been putting.
A player who has slowly been finding his feet at Anfield is Maxi Rodriguez. For him, this was probably his best game where he showed his intelligence, vision and tenacity. By next season, he should be well used to the physicality of English football and the refereeing.
The decision to play Dirk Kuyt as a central striker might not have paid dividends in as far as goals are concerned but it certainly helped open up the Sunderland defence who probably were a bit surprised at having to handle two strikers instead of one. When one of those strikers is Fernando Torres, it is even more complicated. Indeed, it is practically impossible. His first goal was simply breath-taking, his second a lesson in cool. Absolutely fantastic.
You kidding, right?
With Thursday’s game in mind, Fernando Torres was withdrawn with his place being taken by David N’Gog. As always, the young Frenchman was always willing to run and even created the space for what should have been number four but instead failed to hit the ball.
Alberto Aquilani was given a chance late on and, in all fairness, he didn’t really look that bothered. Nabil El Zhar too was put on late in the game and showed very little to justify the run out.