There really is little to say after another fairly insipid performance that saw Liverpool never really get into gear; Brendan Rodgers continued to make changes we've called for in some areas but remained consistent in others, and ahead of their crucial Champions League encounter with Basel on Tuesday night at Anfield, his side looked stifled against a well-organized Sunderland squad. A few bright spots here and there, but generally an underwhelming display on a day that could have seen Liverpool climb back up the table.
Those bright spots came mostly from Raheem Sterling, who continued his improved form while operating throughout the forward areas. The final ball obviously wasn't there, but on a number of occasions the 19-year-old created quasi-danger for Liverpool on his own, including a sparkling solo run to set up a chance for Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian joined Sterling and Adam Lallana in support of Rickie Lambert, and of the other three, only Lallana came off with any credit.
Rodgers' decision to persist with Lambert and alienate Fabio Borini further makes little sense at this point, as the former Southampton striker looked completely out of gas and unable to influence the match beyond the opening twenty minutes. It exaggerates Borini's potential influence to say that he would have completely changed the match, but to leave him out--with the player at full fitness, no less--seems to serve nobody other than Rodgers, who's decided that there is no use for a forward in a side that has only two fit.
The midfield was mostly solid, though Jordan Henderson continues to look like he's stuck in an in-between role that he hasn't quite figured out. Lucas was Lucas, providing the tackling, intercepting, and fouling, but Henderson didn't seem to have much clarity. When Steven Gerrard was added it wasn't really as a midfielder, as he picked up play starting on the left, and while his presence created more urgency, there wasn't any finishing touch to be from the captain. Likewise for Lazar Markovic, who produced his best showing of the season in limited action. He looked more assured on the ball and provided glimpses of pace getting forward, and hopefully this is a launching pad for more minutes in the coming weeks.
Another clean sheet gives a sense of solidity at the back, with Alberto Moreno coming in to mostly positive effect other than a wobbly clearance that nearly gave Sunderland a chance. The visitors had their moments, though, including a clear volley for Conor Wickham from a corner that should have given them the lead. But in a match that saw Liverpool concede possession, especially in the first half, the defense looked up to the task when needed.
A resounding win would have been the perfect table-setter for Tuesday night, but now Liverpool will have to draw on every bit of spontaneous momentum they can muster to get the win they need over Basel. It's a Champions League night at Anfield, and all signs point to it possibly being a turning point in Liverpool's season, but they'll need to be far better--with many of the pieces that looked slightly off the pace today--if they're going to advance to the knockout rounds.