Well, maybe that’s what you get if you play two games with just a day between them. Liverpool were yet again the better team in their 11th away game (just nine at home, remember), but the Sunderland keeper faced no fewer than 15 shots on target and somehow only conceded two.
Teams simply don’t have 15 shots on target away from home. It’s virtually unheard of. And while some were admittedly straight at Vito Mannone, Daniel Sturridge fired a few down hard and low in the first half, and was somehow denied at close-range in the second. (Nathaniel Clyne continues to cross like Gareth Bale and shoot like Gareth from The Office.)
Not that Simon Mignolet didn’t make some smart stops, too, but Sunderland’s only meaningful efforts in the box were penalties.
Liverpool looked leggy – some running was there but the touch was often off, and the mistakes were probably borne of fatigued minds as much as bodies. Sunderland also played a game two days ago, but they apparently didn’t put in any fucking effort at Burnley, whilst Liverpool were hurrying and harrying possession-kings Man City.
Still, despite the disappointing nature of the draw, with the daft late penalty conceded by Sadio Mané (who was otherwise one of the only Liverpool players to look as bright as normal, bar the understandably fresher Sturridge), it remains a pretty good run of form, especially in the absence of Philippe Coutinho and Joel Matip, with Jordan Henderson added to the casualty list for this one.
Without key members of the spine – best centre-back, best deep midfielder and elite creator – Jürgen Klopp’s side were in some ways below par, but still did enough in terms of efforts to win the game. For their effort, Sunderland probably deserved a draw, even if both goals came from the penalty spot. They fought hard, having apparently not attended their scheduled match two days ago.
This fixture was always going to be a case of dicing with danger, with less than two full days since the City game. Klopp can now rest players in the cup games, but the 45-hour turnaround after an intense encounter was taking a risk with injuries. Hopefully everyone will be back for Manchester United away – as they gather some steam – and hopefully neither Mike Dean nor Anthony Taylor will be present.
Of course, to have fallen nine points behind Chelsea could have been curtains for a title bid – a bid no one expected six months ago – and pull the Reds back into the chasing pack. So Klopp was under pressure to go strong. Equally, fresher inferior players can also sometimes give you a better result, but either approach is a gamble of sorts. And it’s not one any manager should be asked to make.
A law should be passed that 72 hours is the minimum acceptable time between any two games. Broadcasters want to eke out every last penny from their investment but they risk turgid, tired games and the clearly proven link between repeating games too quickly and muscle injuries; and so star players – what a lot of people tune in to see – could be flat out in treatment rooms.
The bonus here was that there appeared to be no muscle issues, just a kick on Sturridge’s foot from a tackle that went straight through him (but the referee missed). But such was the gruelling schedule, even James Milner looked tired. It all resulted in a surprisingly open game, with lots of shots, and lots of mistakes. A fully fresh Liverpool would probably have done a lot better than they did with the leveller of no preparation time, but it’s not the end of the world.
It also has to be said that the referee was awful at both ends. Perceptions of fouls or handballs are subjective and to some extent understandable if called wrong, but when the fourth official is holding up a board for five extra minutes – that was seen and noted in the 88th minute – and then there are two further minutes of stoppage time for a head injury from the 88th to 90th minutes, it boggles the mind as to how that equals just 5.5 minutes to add on. Why didn’t the fourth official change his pre-prepared five minutes for seven minutes with the additional injury whilst he was waiting to hold it up?
This may seem like clutching at straws (and in part it is), but Liverpool were piling on the pressure and had a right to all legitimate time to be played. Taylor says he supports Altrincham but the man from Manchester appears either incompetent or biased when he referees Liverpool. Maybe like Mike Dean he’s just a joke. (Never trust a bald man.)
Just a day ago – remember those heady times? – we were still basking in the joy of the win over City, but that joy has now been tainted. However, that joy came about due to epic work-rate, and left little in the legs after. A draw against City and a win against Sunderland would have resulted in the same points for the Reds, but put Man City ahead if they’d still gone on to beat Burnley. Liverpool won the six-pointer but didn’t have quite enough for the quick-fire three-pointer.
Still, Gini Wijnaldum’s goal the other day (or was it just yesterday, or this morning?) was a thing of wonder, from the speed of break, including Firmino’s turn and outside-of-the foot pass – following Wijnaldum’s clever dummy – and Lallana’s sumptuous “wrong foot” cross, and then a beautiful thumping header where the HD slo-mos caught the beads of sweat bouncing off the Dutchman’s bonce as he boofed it in; forehead and football conjoined for a glorious millisecond after the Reds’ midfielder leapt like the proverbial salmon and hung in the air like the proverbial hawk.
It was one of the most satisfying goals I’ve seen in a long time, in that there appeared no logical way that Wijnaldum could get above the much taller Aleksandar Kolarov – and yet as soon as he jumped you could see there would only be one winner. But those were the days of optimism, before Klopp’s side became an outrageous disgrace to the keyboard warriors. Those were the crazy, distant days of 2016.
That win against City kept Liverpool on Chelsea’s coattails but you cannot win every game, even if it feels like you must, and disappointments will occur. In having their best start for 27 years, Liverpool cannot do anything to alter Chelsea making one of the best starts ever. To have 44 points after 20 games, with two more of those matches away than at home, is something we’d all have taken in the summer, especially if given knowledge of a few injuries mounting up (and one of them being Coutinho).
We need to keep the perspective of drastic improvement, not fall prey to the emotion of a recent disappointment. I noted only yesterday that Liverpool were still only a couple of bad results away from dropping to 5th or 6th, as well as being only a couple of bad Chelsea results away from going top. It’s a hellishly competitive top six right now, and as things stand Liverpool are still 2nd – even though the points tally would put them 1st in plenty of other seasons.
On top of us all taking 2nd if offered it in August (especially with those aforementioned injuries), we’d have bitten hands off even quicker if noted that this was a year when all the big clubs rise from the dust to post impressive points tallies. So are Klopp or the owners getting it wrong just because Sunderland scraped a late point?
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