Liverpool haven't made easy work of anything to this point in the season, but they've shown themselves to be resolute and gritty when needed, and today's victory on Wearside was no different. Both brilliant and maddening, Liverpool earned the three points on the strength of very good displays from their front men and the work of the three at the back, and they leave Sunderland with all three points and a renewed belief that this side is capable of dealing with adversity and coming out the other side.
Sunderland 1: Giaccherini 52'
Liverpool 3: Sturridge 27', Suarez 36' 89'
As expected, Brendan Rodgers stuck with the squad that lost at Old Trafford midweek in the League Cup; there wasn't much celebration in picking correctly, though, because it meant a further test for the tired legs of Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard. They weren't tested much in the early going, though, because Gerrard mostly spectated and Sturridge found himself alienated as the hosts pressed relentlessly and dominated the opening twenty-five minutes aside from a few smart attacking moves from Luis Suarez. That Sunderland didn't manage to convert an early chance--or benefit from a forward back-pass by Kolo Toure--would prove to be costly, as they'd find themselves playing catch-up from a two-goal deficit with ten minutes to play in the first half.
Liverpool's go-ahead goal was a complete surprise given that Sunderland had the upper hand, as well as that it came from a Gerrard-delivered corner. It skimmed Toure's head and fell to Sturridge, who redirected past Kieren Westwood with his right elbow. There was no intentionality behind it, but it clearly went in off his arm. It counted, though, and less than ten minutes later Liverpool doubled their lead through Suarez.
An exquisite, ranging ball from Gerrard found Sturridge on the far side, and the striker took a sublime touch and pushed forward against Carlos Cuellar, eventually beating the defender on the goalline side and squaring for Suarez with an inch-perfect pass on the outside of his left foot. The Uruguayan made no mistake with the sliding finish, and after a disheartening opening, suddenly Liverpool were in dreamland.
They'd try to give it away (albeit on an incorrect offside call) before the half was out, and they continued their generosity to open the second. Sunderland got their goal on 52 minutes when Simon MIgnolet could only block a Ki Sung-Yeung effort from distance, and Emanuele Giaccherini beat flat-footed Liverpool defenders to the rebound and crashed home. Craig Gardner almost leveled with another shot from outside the area, but this time Mignolet succesfully pushed away what proved to be the host's final dangerous effort.
Rodgers brought Raheem Sterling on for Victor Moses, with the young winger sliding into the wingback role previously occupied by Jordan Henderson and the makeshift wingback ultimately operating centrally. Liverpool thankfully took control over the final twenty minutes, and with a minute left in regular time they killed the match off for good. Smart distribution from Mignolet allowed Liverpool to break, and a confluence of a Suarez pass, a gut-busting Henderson run, Sturridge's unselfishness, and good finishing from Suarez gave Liverpool another goal, their first of the season in the second half, and all three points on the day.
So clearly it's not going to be a good season for your blood pressure, as Liverpool appear determined to induce about 132 different emotional states within the span of 90 minutes. They were dismal for most of the first half-hour, with no midfield present and an attacking contingent that was unable to combine with one another as they adjusted to each others' respective presences. Then two goals, then bad again, then comfortable, then a great goal, and everything's always been this awesome, right?
The performance for most of the first half was decidedly not awesome, though, and it demands some sort of change from Rodgers. There's limits, of course, and with Joe Allen and Philippe Coutinho injured and Luis Alberto apparently not ready, I'm not sure what changes other than Lucas serving a one-match ban for receiving five yellow cards already. Liverpool need to have a presence in central midfield, and right now there's nothing happening other than getting overrun.
Today they were rescued by stalwart defensive work from each of Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho, with each impressing in their own right. Sakho was dominant and physical in dealing with Altidore and benefited from Howard Webb's typically bipolar refereeing, and Toure and Skrtel were similarly excellent. Simon Mignolet was a bit nervy at times, though he again found himself saving points with a few well-made saves.
It was up and down for nearly everybody else; Gerrard did the impressive set piece and cross-field passing thing but was anonymous otherwise, Lucas was smart at times and impulsive at others, Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique were inconsistent as the wingbacks--though Henderson helped stabilize the squad after moving centrally and is still mostly saving the squad's lack of depth by playing deeper on the right--and Victor Moses excelled when stationed wide but struggled in the middle.
That leaves the goalscorers, and both were mostly positive. Sturridge somehow looked rejuvenated once he got involved, and his two assists for Suarez were among the most encouraging takeaways on the day. Suarez looked closer to his best but was still rusty, and both frustrated the other with a handful of selfish decisions. But both also inspired and pushed the other along, and if they can manage to recreate their linkup today, it's going to be a fun season (or half-season, as it were).
It's the result that matters, and today's result was a good one. Liverpool can again reflect knowing they've done enough to earn all three points, this time with a week to rest and recuperate. Crystal Palace's visit will give way to a few weeks off, and if they can secure another three points next weekend, they'll be headed into late October in good stead, both in terms of standing and sentiment.