A terrific first half followed by a disjointed and disappointing second half, and ultimately a performance all too familiar. Pass and move football gave way to static and sloppy play down the stretch, with Sunderland clearly the better side as the match came to a close. Not a reason to completely erase all the optimism that accompanies the beginning of the season, but it's clear that there's some work left to be done.
Kenny Dalglish's starting eleven featured four of the summer's five additions; Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, and Stewart Downing started in the midfield with Luis Suarez and Lucas, and Jose Enrique got the surprise start (with Fabio Aurelio out injured already) in a back line of John Flanagan, Jamie Carragher, and Daniel Agger. With Suarez playing just off Andy Carroll up front, it looked like a promising starting lineup.
And that promise was fulfilled nearly from the outset, with Liverpool streaming forward down the left flank exclusively, pushing forward at every opportunity. They should have had the lead on five minutes, when Luis Suarez intercepted a Kieran Richardson pass at midfield and broke clear on goal. As he rounded Simon Mignolet, Richardson clattered into him from behind, ruining the goalscoring opportunity and knocking Suarez to the ground. In the first of many questionable decisions on the day, Phil Dowd opted not to send Richardson off, instead giving him yellow while awarding the penalty.
Liverpool couldn't take advantage, though, as Suarez blasted the spot kick over the bar, wasting the chance to give the hosts the early lead. It wouldn't take long for the Uruguayan to atone for his error, as he got on the end of a Charlie Adam free kick and flicked a header past Mignolet on twelve minutes. From joy to despair and back again, it was a perfect encapsulation of the talents Suarez possesses.
It was all very encouraging from there, with Liverpool linking throughout the midfield and forward areas, and each of the summer signings getting involved. Jordan Henderson had plenty of freedom on the right and often found himself moving centrally, and Downing blistered down both flanks at every opportunity and nearly scored from range after a terrific run down the right only to be denied by the crossbar. Adam's partnership with Lucas flourished, with the Brazilian doing most of the tidying and allowing the Scot more freedom in distribution and movement. Enrique was more subdued but effective on the left, stifling most Sunderland attacks along with an improved overall effort across the back.
And then it all went wrong---Suarez was noticeably tired, pass and move gradually gave way to an absolute mess in a possession, and Sunderland punished yet another defensive lapse for the equalizer. The interplay down the right side was impressive, and Sebastian Larsson's volley past Reina was doubly so, but John Flanagan was stargazing the entire time, leaving Larsson plenty of time and space to position himself for the cross.
The guests were dominant from there, taking the match to Liverpool and completely subduing the home crowd. Dalglish opted to bring Dirk Kuyt on for Henderson, who had faded into oblivion, and later introduced Raul Meireles for an exhausted and ineffectual Luis Suarez. Neither man could provide the spark; both added something to the mix, but as a collective the side couldn't recapture their first half form. Like so many Liverpool results of the past few seasons, we're left wanting for more and disappointed about what could have been.
It's hard to make any sort of concrete judgments about the squad as a whole or any of the additions---nearly everyone looked on form during the first half, and the only negative was that chances had gone begging. Andy Carroll was sturdy up top and was unfortunate to have a chance wiped away by a soft foul flagged by the linesman; his excellence in the air was expected, but it eventually faded as Liverpool regressed to a style of play that increasingly relied on flinging the ball forward.
As noted above, Suarez looked to have heavy legs and was a step off of the form we've come to expect, which is understandable given his summer with the national team. But he still proved to be a nuisance early and timed his run to perfection to nod home the opener, and when he's on, he's nearly unstoppable. His interplay with Downing and, to a lesser degree, Enrique was promising, with the former again showing his worth from the wide areas. And considering the circumstances, the latter was excellent---he didn't rampage forward, but provided a few telling crosses and was strong in defense.
The individual problems in the second half were easy to pick out, but nearly all were symptomatic of a system-wide breakdown. Flanagan will bear most of the blame for a shaky display as the match wore on; after spectating on Larsson's goal he had one nightmare after another, struggling to put anything positive together. His display will rightfully cause some questions about Dalglish selecting him over the more seasoned (and arguably skillful) Martin Kelly, but there's no condemnations needed for a teenager who's been mostly remarkable in his time with the first team.
I guess that applies to the whole squad, really---rushing to judgment about who's not living up to their price tag or why someone's not the right fit after one horrific half is probably taking things a little too far. Nearly everyone was as bad in the second half as they were good in the first, new boy or old. I think questions about the selection and tactics are justified, which you'd expect for a squad that's more or less completely revamped since last season's opener.
It's disappointing, sure, but it's also day one. It dampens the excitement and highlights concerns, but it doesn't change the fact that Liverpool are capable of steadily improving, and they've got the pieces in place to be successful. So while the second half performance and result belie that fact, I think we'd all do well to remember that there's plenty of ground left to cover.