Liverpool still firing blanks


Published: Saturday 6th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Brendan Rodgers’ decision to rest Steven Gerrard failed to pay dividends as even the Liverpool captain’s emergence off the bench failed to inspire his side to break down a resolute Sunderland.

Tuesday’s must-win Champions League tie at home to Basle, followed by a trip to Old Trafford, meant this was a game which was always earmarked for the 34-year-old midfielder to sit out.

In protecting the midfielder’s legs for supposedly greater challenges Rodgers placed the emphasis on those who, in years to come – if not before should Gerrard not agree a new deal by the summer – will have to replace the skipper.

They struggled to live up to expectations and, although Gerrard’s appearance with 23 minutes to go lifted his team-mates, particularly Raheem Sterling, they still could not find the breakthrough and had to settle for a point in a 0-0 draw.

Only Aston Villa and Burnley have now scored fewer goals at home, where Liverpool have won just three of eight matches.

Sunderland strung out a long line of blue shirts across their midfield whenever Liverpool were in possession in their half, which was understandable considering they had just lost 4-1 to Manchester City after a win and three successive draws had given their season some stability.

They were content to allow players like Liverpool’s two centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure and midfielder Lucas Leiva to have the ball, confident the chances of them doing any damage was minimal.

It put greater onus on the creative attacking trio of Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana – plus full-backs Glen Johnson and Alberto Moreno – to find a way through, but they struggled to make inroads.

In fact, they were nullified so much Sunderland had the better of the opening exchanges, with Connor Wickham twice having claims for a penalty.

His first shout, when he tangled with Skrtel after Johnson had slipped, was the more genuine of the two, but referee Neil Swarbrick was not interested in either.

Liverpool fired in plenty of crosses, but more often than not there was no-one in the right position to take advantage.

That was highlighted when Sterling stood one up to the far post for Rickie Lambert to nod back towards the penalty spot – exactly where an advanced Gerrard would be expected to be charging in.

Unfortunately his replacement, Coutinho, was 10 yards outside the area as his tendency to play a much deeper version of the number 10 role meant he was unable to capitalise.

Lambert had earlier headed over from Lallana’s cross, fashioned by a piece of nifty footwork to bamboozle Anthony Reveillere, while Coutinho’s all-too-rare flash of pace and incisiveness saw Costel Pantilimon save low at his right-hand post.

The best chance of the half came with the final touch when Wes Brown planted a free header high into the Kop from Sebastian Larsson’s corner.

Sunderland, sensing their chance, began the second half positively, with Jordi Gomez’s shot deflected just wide and Wickham volleying across goal and wide after Skrtel could only flick on Adam Johnson’s corner.

Sterling came to life again midway through the second half and Liam Bridcutt was booked for bringing him down just as he was about to burst into the area, but Jordan Henderson wasted the resulting free-kick.

The Liverpool winger then teed up Lucas for a shot from distance, but Pantilimon comfortably held on.

Gerrard was sent for with 23 minutes remaining, with Lallana making way, and his deep cross and Lambert’s knockdown saw Coutinho’s fierce volley blocked by Bridcutt.

The Brazil international then fired straight at Pantilimon from a good position after Sterling’s brilliant dribble had put Sunderland’s defence on the back foot and was immediately replaced by Lazar Markovic.

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who had been relatively untroubled, had to be at full stretch to tip Gomez’s shot behind, but it was Sterling who was suddenly the real threat and he could have had a penalty when another incisive run ended with him on the floor after a challenge from Brown.

Unfortunately the most telling run made by Gerrard, who was immediately shackled by Lee Cattermole, sent on by Black Cats boss Gus Poyet, came when he gave the ball away to Wickham and he had to sprint into his own area to win it back.

Liverpool will hope he – and with it their cutting edge – heads in the opposite direction come Tuesday against the Swiss visitors when anything other than three points will end their Champions League participation.

Published: Saturday 6th December 2014 by The News Editor

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