Although open and entertaining throughout, this was a disjointed contest between sides playing unfamiliar systems. Whereas Paolo Di Canio favoured two centre-forwards, Kevin Ball deployed a 4-3-3. It gave Sunderland extra strength in midfield and was broadly successful but it meant a change in role for various players, with team-mates often debating positional responsibilities at length.
Brendan Rodgers continued with the 3-5-2 system used in the midweek Capital One Cup defeat at Manchester United, with José Enrique and Jordan Henderson as wing-backs. With the latter played higher up the pitch, Kolo Touré often shuttled across to make it look like a back four but, with Victor Moses used centrally, Liverpool often lacked bodies down the flanks.
The key battle was in wide zones and Sunderland had two ways of exposing Liverpool's weakness. First, when José Enrique and Henderson attacked, there was space in behind for Sunderland's wingers to break into. A couple of long balls towards the corners put the home side in decent attacking positions, with Emanuele Giaccherini dribbling dangerously from the left, and Adam Johnson prominent in the opening stages on the right. The second method was Sunderland pushing their full-backs forward to create overloads.
The onus to attack meant Sunderland were themselves vulnerable in wide positions on the break. With Liverpool playing without natural wingers, the strikers, Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, were asked to roam the pitch laterally, working the channels.
Liverpool's second goal was a perfect example – with Jack Colback in an advanced position, Sturridge drew wide to receive a fabulous long pass from Steven Gerrard, eased past Carlos Cuéllar, who was uncomfortable covering out wide, and squared for Suárez to tap in. The two strikers also combined superbly on the break for Liverpool's third goal, albeit following a Sunderland corner rather than in open play. Still both strikers were mobile enough to make this system work, and their link-up play often worked excellently.