Sunderland 2 Defoe 25’, 84’
Liverpool 2 Sturridge 19’, Mané 72’
Jürgen Klopp had sounded alarms months ago over the scheduling of the Sunderland away game less than forty-eight hours after playing Manchester City at Anfield. It was a tough turnaround. But, nothing could be done about it. Head down, power through.
The starting line-up was unchanged from the City game all but for Daniel Sturridge replacing Jordan Henderson, who missed out through injury. That no other players were swapped suggests that Klopp was satisfied that those players had the endurance take the game to Sunderland. And, indeed they did for the first fifteen minutes. Aside from a couple nervy moments that required a couple of saves from Simon Mignolet, Liverpool were at it. But the Sunderland back ten would not relent.
Then from a spell of pressure Liverpool get a corner: ball in, Dejan Lovren is on it, he tries to strike it, but does one better and perfectly mistimes the approach so that the strike magically transforms into an assist that’s heading straight for Sturridge. It was an impressive reaction from the England striker to direct a lobbing header over Vito Mannone and into the net. 1-0 Reds.
After that it got a bit wonky. Liverpool were conceding possession. Sunderland were allowed to drive forward into our box and a penalty was awarded when Gini Wijnaldum and Ragnar Klavan made themselves a Didier Ndong sandwich. Jermaine Defoe slots it home, back to level one, the ugh-silence could be heard around the world.
Liverpool’s response was to let Sunderland dictate the game for a spell, thus gifting them confidence and counterattacks. And then Reds would get things under control, make some chances, take some shots. The game went back and forth and back again. The boys were looking tired. Halftime was a relief.
Alberto Moreno started the second half for James Milner, who picked up a little thing but it's not supposed to be worrying. Again, though, Liverpool start fairly well until Sunderland and exhaustion lured them into a frustrated state of scrappiness and everything continued as before. But now with more long balls over the top.
The impatient shots. Poor passing in the final third. Roberto Firmino perhaps most guilty of trying to be-the-guy. But the Sunderland defenders were impenetrable from open play. It would take another corner for Liverpool to go in front for a second time. Moreno’s corner entered the box, hit a head, changing it's trajectory, sending it towards Sadio Mane, who deftly makes it 1-2.
Divock Origi came into the game for Wijnaldum and the job should really have been to see the match out. Hunker down. Keep it tight. But mentally, there seemed to be something off. Tired minds, they say. And it appeared to be rampant throughout the team. Confusion reigns in those moments. And even with (or because of, depending on your take) the inclusion of Lucas Leiva for an injured Sturridge, the determination of Sunderland could not be stopped.
Lucas was controversially adjudged to have fouled Defoe just outside Liverpool’s box setting up what will be remembered as that-time-Mané-fell-asleep-in-the-wall-and -dreamed-he-was-in-the-garden-popping-bubbles. Handball. Clear penalty. You know the rest. Good feelings, gone.
Plenty of legitimate stuff to moan about. The ref, the players, the schedule. The manager, maybe. And have at it. But don't let yourself be dragged down into fights over the legitimacy of this team. This is a project in progress and on the right track. Winning the league this season would be an amazing feat. But securing top four is, realistically, what Liverpool are fighting for right now. And we are. Still. Everybody breathe. Everybody dance now.