New-look Liverpool deflated by Larsson
Liverpool 1 Sunderland 1
Sunday 14 August 2011
The season is only a day old and already we have our first cliché. This was a game of two halves. The opening 45 minutes were as dramatic a statement of intent as Kenny Dalglish could possibly have provided for Liverpool's owner, John W Henry. The American would not have been familiar with the concept of winning by a cricket score but, as Phil Dowd blew for the interval, by any logical method of accounting they ought to have been at least three goals up. And yet, by the end, Dalglish's expensively remodelled Liverpool looked tired and grateful for the point.
Luis Suarez, who in the first quarter of an hour won and missed a penalty but then stole ahead of Kieran Richardson to head home Charlie Adam's cross, had been substituted. Andy Carroll, who had a goal disallowed for a push on Anton Ferdinand, finished sluggishly. Wes Brown, who after a decade at Old Trafford, might have wanted somewhere other than Anfield to begin his Sunderland career, had given a masterly display of how to control a centre-forward.
Just as they had last year, Liverpool began the season at Anfield with a 1-1 draw. Last August, Roy Hodgson was talking constantly of reducing expectations on Merseyside. Dalglish's name and the money he has spent do not allow for that. And when, with Liverpool rampant, Stewart Downing, a man on whom he had lavished £20 million of Henry's money, ran 20 yards and unleashed a drive that cannoned against the crossbar, it seemed difficult to imagine why a 19th championship was not beyond Liverpool, even 21 years since the last.
The answer came in the quarter of an hour after the interval. Suddenly, Liverpool looked shorn of pace and ideas. The frustration of knowing that they should long ago have finished this match as a contest would have been grating against their skin. Then, Ahmed Elmohamady produced a fabulous, deep cross that a more experienced full-back than the otherwise impressive John Flanagan might have cut out. Instead, Sebastian Larsson met it, falling backwards on the volley. Thereafter, the game spluttered to its conclusion, continuing Bruce's remarkable managerial record against Liverpool, whether in charge of Birmingham, Wigan or Sunderland.
Bruce chose to start with only two of his 10 summer signings, while Dalglish began with four of his, although Jose Enrique, whom he had rescued from the trauma of being a regular in Newcastle's defence, would not have played had Fabio Aurelio been fit.
Among those Bruce kept faith with was the 21-year-old Jack Colback, who had captained Jordan Henderson in Sunderland's youth teams, and he enjoyed a better afternoon than the man on whom Dalglish had spent £19.25m. "If I had kicked Jack Colback in the teeth, I might not have seen him again," Bruce said.
What probably turned the game was Dowd's decision not to dismiss Richardson after six minutes as Suarez charged down his clearance and raced towards goal. Richardson's pursuit ended with him bringing down the Uruguayan as he shaped to take the ball round Simon Mignolet. Most in Anfield expected Richardson to be dismissed and Liverpool to take the lead. Neither happened. Dowd considered that, as Suarez was turning away towards the corner flag, Richardson was not denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
What followed summed up the match; the enormous expectation of Suarez and then the reality of seeing it land halfway up the Anfield Road End.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Flanagan, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Henderson (Kuyt, 60), Lucas Leiva, Adam, Downing; Suarez (Meireles, 75), Carroll.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Brown, Richardson; Elmohamady, Colback, Cattermole, Larsson (Vaughan, 80); Sessegnon; Gyan (Ji, 66).
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Adam (Liverpool).
Match rating 7/10
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