Liverpool 1: Markovic 8'
For a match that included some of the more complete individual performances this season, a more flattering scoreline would be expected. This was, even accounting for the opposition, an enjoyable and dominant Liverpool display, one that will hopefully prove as the foundation for a better second half of the season. More goals will be needed and they'll have to show they can do it against sides outside of the relegation zone, but this is one for Brendan Rodgers' squad to largely be proud of.
The first half in particular showed their quality, with Lazar Markovic leading the way. The young Serbian should have won a penalty in the opening minutes were it not for the incompetence of Craig Pawson, but he managed to poke in the opener five minutes later after a flowing move. He was a bright spot throughout the match, though his influence was subdued in the second half after changing positions. Still, easily his best in a Liverpool shirt, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what the future holds.
He wasn't the only one that excelled in a rampant first half, with each of Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas, and Steven Gerrard turning in excellent performances. The goals didn't come but the quality was there in spades, with Henderson and Lucas providing stability in the middle of the park and Gerrard looking very good further forward. The captain was forced off with tightness in his thigh at the half, but he did plenty to assuage concerns about how he would look in a more advanced role in the absence of Adam Lallana.
The strong performances from others continued for the remainder of the ninety minutes, with Mamadou Sakho also looking assured at the back and adding a visible commanding influence as the match wore on. The Frenchman was praised by his manager yesterday in a somewhat confused manner, with Rodgers implying that the former PSG captain and established international lacked the experience to feature regularly after arriving at Liverpool. That couldn't be further from the truth, but if this recent enlightenment--misguided as it might be--leads to a run of starts in a defense that's in desperate need of stability, all the better.
Liverpool's early second half struggles were concerning, especially with Liam Bridcutt's dismissal giving them a man advantage just three minutes after the restart. They managed to steady the ship, however, and they saw out the win in a mostly comfortable manner. Adam Johnson's strike off the crossbar left Simon Mignolet rooted and hearts in mouths on the visitor's side, but that proved to be Sunderland's only real threat in a match that saw the hosts create very little.
It was only 1-0 and Sunderland are clearly a struggling side, but there are plenty of reasons to be positive this afternoon. Coutinho continues to round into form, Markovic is hitting his stride, Can looks a dominating force (while featuring in three different positions), Henderson and Lucas are an assured midfield pairing, Gerrard was revitalized before coming off, and Sakho is in the manager's good graces and on a good run of form.
With Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana set to return from injury and Raheem Sterling back from vacation, Liverpool appear as though they're set up to make good on their manager's promises of improvement over the season's second half. Now they just have to do it.