Liverpool needed to two second half goals to put away a pesky Sunderland squad 2-0 this past Saturday.
The Guardians Andy Hunter wrote: “The crowd here included the recently retired Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool owner, John W Henry, the chairman, Tom Werner, and several former school friends of Jürgen Klopp invited over from Germany. Their old classmate, it transpired, is still learning at the age of 49. “I learned today that we are able to beat even the most defensive team I ever played against,” he said following Liverpool’s brief return to the Premier League summit (ended by Chelsea). “That is a nice thing to learn.”
A rewarding victory came at a price for Liverpool. Philippe Coutinho was taken off on a stretcher with an ankle injury that will require a scan and left the influential Brazil international hobbling out of Anfield on crutches. His replacement, Divock Origi, would eventually break Sunderland’s resistance just as the fear of a second consecutive goalless draw appeared to have gripped the home crowd, prompting another of those furious outbursts from their manager.
“The crowd was really good in the first half and in second half it was like, ‘Come on, we’ve waited long enough’,” he said. “Atmosphere is a big, big part of the game and I tried to remind the crowd. They reacted brilliantly.”
Origi’s influence on Liverpool’s sixth win in seven home matches provided another demonstration of the quality attacking options at Klopp’s disposal. The performance and atmosphere showed how far Liverpool have come in the nine months since Sunderland were last here and recovered from a two-goal deficit thanks to a player who now languishes in jail, Adam Johnson. Back in February Liverpool were wracked by division, thousands walking out in protest at proposed ticket price rises, and brittle when faced with recovery by a relegation-threatened team. Today, they are united, confident and finding solutions.
Klopp said: “I didn’t think about Southampton [last week’s opponents] for one second. This was much more defensive. I don’t think I have ever played against a more defensive team, man-marking against Coutinho, Victor Anichebe at left full-back and how many touches did Defoe have? We forced them to be so defensive.
“It was a real challenge in our development and we showed we are ready to play against teams like this.”
Sunderland’s anxieties had eased a little with back-to-back league wins, their first under David Moyes, and they succeeded where many have failed this season in stifling Liverpool throughout the first half. They were less assured than usual, their touch heavier and their penetrating runs in behind not quite paying off, but the visitors’ approach was instrumental with Jason Denayer designated to track Coutinho’s every step.
Liverpool’s threat levels increased once the Brazilian exited, strangely, with Sunderland ending the first half hanging on in an 8-2-0 formation. He had been injured when Didier Ndong cleared the ball off his toes but connected with the right foot on the follow-through.
Origi brought a more direct, physical presence to an attack that had rarely threatened the commanding Jordan Pickford in Sunderland’s goal for the opening half-hour. Dejan Lovren headed wide when Jordan Henderson’s free-kick found the central defender unmarked at the back post. Emre Can also put a free header wide and Lovren went close from almost 30 yards as Liverpool stepped up the pressure as half-time approached.
It never dropped after the restart and Sunderland were clinging on, reliant on good fortune and the right breaks.
Georginio Wijnaldum volleyed wide from close range, Can’s half volley sailed beyond Pickford’s left post, the two midfielders both failed to connect with Firmino’s low cross across the face of goal and Henderson sent a well-placed free-kick just over. When Denayer threw himself at Sadio Mané’s close-range shot the tension around Anfield intensified but Origi released it out of nothing with 15 minutes remaining. The Belgium international took possession on the left of the area, cut back inside a tired challenge from Duncan Watmore and curled a shot low into the far corner of Pickford’s goal.
Watmore had squandered an excellent chance at 0-0 and in stoppage time Mané broke from the halfway line, held off Denayer and was sent flying by Ndong. James Milner converted a clear penalty with ease.
“I don’t know any good teams who aren’t first and foremost defensively sound,” said Moyes in response to Klopp’s barbed comments. “If you want to win the Premier League, you are going to have to have a good defence. If you want to avoid relegation, you have to have a good defence. We have not been good enough defensively recently but the lads did a job today, but it was always going to be difficult coming here.”