Sunderland were greatly improved under Kevin Ball, but the pace and skill of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge in particular, was a little too much for them
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A rarity: a really good performance from both sides. Sunderland started well and sustained their level for the entire game, refusing to allow Liverpool to settle into a passing rhythm and looking a genuine goal threat. Whether it's enough to earn Kevin Ball the manager's job is hard to say, with timetables remaining undesignated and options available for consideration infinite. It's also worth pointing out that clubs improve after managers are sacked almost regardless, let alone when it's one as hated as it seems Di Canio was, so if the Sunderland board which appointed Di Canio for no reason whatsoever have any sense whatsoever, they'll bare this in mind. But still, a good start.
Liverpool, on the other hand, weren't great in general play, but didn't panic after conceding, and in Suarez and Sturridge, have a combination that will trouble any defence - if they can get enough of the ball. This wasn't problematic for them today, because Sunderland aren't exactly a possession side, but their midfield was largely anonymous and if they're to compete seriously at the top of the table, will need amending in maybe four positions. But in the meantime, they're doing very nicely, just two points off the top in second place.
Anyway, ta for your emails, sorry I couldn't use them all. Lehit.
90 min There shall be three additional minutes.
Another goal if brilliant competence, if not simple brilliance. Mignolet came for a corner and actually caught it, immediately releasing a throw to Suarez on the right. With Henderson tanking alongside him he instead swept a pass towards Sturridge on the other side, who again intimated a movement inside before burning outside, escaping Cuellar. Then, also ignoring, now Henderson in the middle, he picked out Suarez at the back post, the low cross slightly behind him - but leaving plenty of time to retreat slightly, before clobbering low past Westwood.
87 min Well, the expected Sunderland onslaught hasn't quite materialised, Liverpool's threat on the break keeping them from sending too many forward too often. But then Johnson finds space and crosses from the right, Gerrard - who's hardly had a kick - heading away.
85 min Mavrias replaces Larsson - a little odd, given his ability to deliver well-aimed set-pieces.
83 min Lucas earns his fifth booking of the season - in what can only be his sixth game - and incurs what must be one of the earliest such suspensions. I didn't quite see who he fouled, but you can guess the context: caught for pace, centrefieldish, niggle.
82 min Sunderland gather and with several men forward, work the ball wide to Celustka. He nails a cross well past the back post and for no purpose, and Liverpool break, Sturridge swaying here and there as he hisses in off the right, Cuellar sliding into a desperate tackle that just about wins the ball, when it looked too late. Great defending, and a great passage of play.
79 min Sterling immediately threatens, wriggling free of Colback on halfway, who tugs him down and studs his Achilles simultaneously, then accepts his booking while affecting sheepishness.
78 min And Toure is immediately back involved, skipping between Altidore and Gardner - it's a small gap, he must have etc etc - and advancing with purpose in the inside-right channel, contorting his entire corporeal into a shot that forces Westwood to fly towards his near post and tip away.
77 min Giaccherini races along the left and draws Toure, assuming he can be beaten for pace down the outside, so pulls ball and body that way. But Toure is wise to the ruse and smothers him, the ball rolling out and the two sharing a smile. It's a beautiful thing.
75 min A change apiece, Sunderland bringing Celustka on for Cattermole - he goes to right-back, with Gardner moving into midfield - and Sterling replacing Moses for Liverpool.
74 min Henderson pulls down Gerrard's pass quickly, and drills across, the ball missed by various and eventually collected by Suarez, just outside the box, on its left. He fires hard with his left foot, and Cattermole, horizontal in front of him, blocks well - but is in no position to stop the one which comes next, with his right foot, and that flashes only just wide of the far post.
71 min Brendan knows (and has taken the wrong turning on his way to Revolution or somesuch).
70 min Now it's Sunderland pushing, Lucas forced to foul Altidore in centrefield and Mignolet flying out of goal to punch a corner clear.
69 min What is, or are, in Howard Webb's sleeves?
66 min Moses, who has been quiet, ventures in and the Sunderland defence parts, allowing him to slam a shot at goal that forces Westwood to to shovel behind at the near post. The corner is cleared, but Moses collects again, again on the left, and curls towards the far post. Westwood lets it be, experiencing significant relief when it spins just wide.
65 min Sunderland need to concentrate now, because Liverpool look poised to score again; it might be wise for them to stay within a goal for ten minutes, then go for it in the final 15. An open game will end only one way, in much the same way as this game is over.
62 min Sakho and Skrtel leave a long ball to each other, which is all Altidore needs to pilfer it from them, welting a half-volley from outside the box and right of centre, that rushes Mignolet into a save. "He hit it too well", reckons Davie Provan. Similarly, Davie Provan is too articulate.
60 min Liverpool have steadied in the last few minutes, starting to pick their passes again, and after a run of a few in a row, Sturridge's gentle scoop, from just outside the box and central, almost meets the run of Suarez, finding his way into it from the left. That was close.
59 min Skrtel lanks half the length of the pitch without molestation, so Giaccherini pursues him to slide in late, earning a booking.
57 min Cattermole slams himself into Sturridge to abort a Liverpool attack, and has played really well, violence tempered into aggression and complemented by genuine vision and skill.
54 min Sunderland are right into this now, Gardner nosing in off his flank and half-shinning a straight one that loops from right to left, and again, Mignolet makes a straightfroward save look like the riddle of the Sphinx.
This is not so good from Mignolet. For the severaleth time, Ki shoots from distance, again failing to make a proper connection - but he does force a save, Mignolet plunging slowly to his right and shoving the ball into the path of the onrushing Giaccherini, who rams home.
52 min Sunderland pin Liverpool, and Cattermole, his back to goal and on the edge of the box, controls the ball beautifully on his chest
before studding it with both feet then finds Johnson, who can't quite direct his shot from distance.
49 min Liverpool win a corner on the left, which Gerrard drives long. Sakho leaps, with O'Shea, and when they both miss it, it falls onto the laces of Suarez, whose behavioural patterns aren't quite right, and accordingly, he skelps wide of the far post.
47 min Beckenbauer O'Shea slices forward and slides a hard, low ball into Altidore, on which he can't quite turn.
47 min Henderson, who's been quiet, eases down the right and seeks Sturridge with a cross, but it hits Cuellar and loops into the soft, grateful arms of Westwood.
46 min It starts.
Back to clones, here's Thiago Carreira. "Ferguson deployed him as an old-fashioned number 10, as a centre midfielder, as a holding midfielder, as a right midfielder and as a left midfielder. I truly believe that Ferguson never used Rooney as a striker, though. I fathom Rooney might have excelled as a striker under Fergie as well!"
Yep, agreed - well, once upon a time, before he became Annette Bening, sometime in 2009. He's also meant to be ace in net.
Photos! Of today's game! See them here.
Half-time ad break. About Steve Nicol, apparently.
A good, and odd half. Sunderland played well, only to shaft themselves with some Sunderland defending, and even though Sturridge got lucky after missing his header, it was no more than their marking deserved. As for the second goal, well, that was just too much for them - but even then, Sunderland came back strongly, and perhaps this isn't quite as over as might have been rashly assumed.
45+1 min "I think you're being pedantic RE: Wenger's youth policy", reckons Ronan Scott. "Why is there a dividing line between players brought through the youth team and players bought at age 17/18? The importance is how much influence a coach has on their development, not whether they've been at the club since their early teens. Good examples include the flourishing of Ramsey, Van Persie, Henry... among others."
Come, come - Ramsey was an international, or close to it, Henry had won thew World Cup, Van Persie came from a top club. That's not to say he hasn't improved them, but it's not the same as bringing them through the system.
45 min Suarez loses possession deep inside his own half, on the Sunderland right. Johnson, who's been quiet, accepts it and zones infield, uncorking a hard curler and burns only just over the bar, towards the far post.
44 min Ki squares to Cattermole, 40 yards from goal and right of centre, who drifts a delightful ball over the top and into the path of Gardner, who watches it over his shoulder and pokes at goal on the volley, forcing Mignolet into a smart save. Had he allowed it to drop properly, and smacked it with his laces, he'd probably have scored.
40 min This is, in the parlance of our time, over.
38 min Various suggested clonees: Matt Dony offers Michael Essien-Mourinho. "Ruud Gullit and many, many more Dutch players could
play all over the pitch and play at different tempos too," says Gary Naylor.. "For Liverpool, Jan Molby played centre midfield, advanced midfield, defensive midfield and centre-back. Not much good on the wing though."
And finally, for now, here's David Birl:
"Steve Nicol was one of Liverpool's greatest players who was equally world class at right back, left back, centre-back, right midfield and left midfield. He also had a spell as defensive midfielder toward the end of his career and he could defend and score goals in equal measure.
I don't think Gerrard could play left back or left midfield and he never really impressed me as the holding midfield player."
This is a goal of simple, undiluted brilliance. Gerrard drove a long pass from centre to right to pick out Sturridge loitering on the touchline. His first touch is perfect, the ball now in his stride and Cuellar squared, ready for the pasting with a change of pace, which followed along his outside. Too wide to shoot, even for him, and with O'Shea between him and Suarez, he squared - with the outside of his left foot, obviously - into the path of Suarez, who tapped home at the back post.
35 min Mignolet drops another cross, and again Toure vaults O'Shea. Too much more of this, and there'll be a goal or a penalty.
32 min "From this weekends match squad - Szczesny, Gibbs, Wilshere, Gnabry, 'Bendtner'," says Andy Berg as regards Wenger's youth policy. But he bought Gnabry, at least, and when you consider that other than Ashley Cole, there have been no other regulars in his time at Arsenal, unless I'm missing some, it's not much of a record.
30 min Sunderland then win a corner, and with Toure embracing John O'Shea, Mignolet comes to catch, catches, and drops - but the ball drops kindly, and he gathers.
Well, that was not coming, and yet, here it is. Liverpool win a corner on the right, and with Sunderland's markers attracted to the likes of Sakho, Toure and Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge was left on his lonesome ownsome on the edge of the six-yard box. Ducking to head home, he missed the ball entirely with his forehead but slid it home with his forearm - imagine a cricketer practicing a forward-defensive shot, and you'll not go far wrong.
24 min Enrique almost fashions his team a mess, passing square across the face of goal and into the path of the advancing Altidore, who fancies himself about to score. But a brilliant saving tackle from Toure, who inserts his leg between man and ball, saves the situation and raises penalty claims.
23 min Sunderland a free-kick just outside the left of the box, Larsson and Gardner behind it. And Larsson slams a curler over the wall and Mignolet's hand which then dips to cannon the face of the bar - brilliant effort.
21 min "Brendan clogs the midfield," complains Mikey Georgeson. "Alberto not even on the bench? Wenger would have him dazzling us already but BR plays it steady."
You say that, but how many players has Wenger brought through from the youth team? It's hard.
20 min The teams huff to little avail, Cuellar sending a long ball along the left for Giaccherini, who lays back for Ki - to drag a lame shot wide of the near post from just outside the box. Ki's name might directly translate more than any other in the league: because in Hebrew, here in Italian, who in French....
18 min Altidore almost sneaks in on goal, but strays marginally offside, as signalled by England's World Cup hero Mike Mullarkey. Oh for there to be more linesmen with whom we're on first-name terms.
15 min Suarez wanders over to the left and teases Gardner before sliding inside, slipping an instant before he was booted. The game stops while he receives treatment, which is as good an opportunity as any to note the number of complaints I'm receiving about Liverpool's purple kit and assymetrically unmatching socks.
13 min More harrying wins Sunderland the ball, Liverpool denied the space to pass, and Altidore accepts possession on the right, just outside the box. He lashes across an effort that screeches wide of the near post.
13 min Sunderland bluster, and everyone cheers. Odd, really, considering his behavioural patterns, that Di Canio failed even to extract hard work from his players.
11 min And another Steven Gerrard question: if people could be cloned, would he force his way into his team's first XI in more positions that any other player? You could legitimately pick him at right-back, four midfield positions, and at least once up front.
10 min If Steven Gerrard had played his career at right-back, would he be the greatest of all-time?
8 min Sturridge glides across the face of the Sunderland box. You can guess the rest, but in case not, Cattermole pulls him down. From the left edge of the D, Gerrard panels low and hard, Westwood saving down to his respective, and yet different left. He can only push the ball back out, to Skrtel, who taps home - but he's offside.
6 min Though they've created nothing yet, Sunderland are running around and everything. This is, apparently, worthy of praise.
4 min "Whatever you think about some of his behavioural patterns" - yes, Martin Tyler actually said that - "if you're a football fan, you're glad to have him back". He is, of course, talking about
Jordan Henderson Suarez, who lashes a shot from distance, left of centre and towards the far top corner, not that far away.
It's a great line, though, I might try it myself: "Sorry yer honour, it's just my behavioural patterns."
3 min As the teams do not much, Colback floating a cross towards no one at the back post, Phil Podolsky shares some thoughts. "The refusal of English clubs to foray into uncharted territories in their search for managerial talent is baffling. I'm sure there are great coaches to be plucked from Japan, Quebec, Turkmenistan etc. And, Italians aside, everybody speaks English nowadays. Show some imagination and give a random French Canadian bloke who got a technically limited outfit into the soccer college league semis a chance! How much worse than Di Canio can it be?"
Or Gerard Houllier.
2 min Liverpool - or "LIV" is outlined in purple on the Sky (no doubt super) scorebar thing. That is just so very wrong.
1 min It begins, and so does Matt Dony. "'Assessing all options?' Really? All options? Maybe I'll fire off a cv to firstname.lastname@example.org and see if they assess that particular option."
They are as optionful as they are scoobiless.
More treason. Following Chris Hughton earlier, Brendan has eschewed the v-neck entirely, clad in all black. He's just so mysterious.
Aside from a decent keeper, Liverpool also picked up a decent song from Sunderland.
The players are in the tunnel, and John O'Shea affects focus. The PA pumps out the The Apprentice theme tune, and hackles elevate.
Has Brendan Rodgers had liposuction? Otherwise, he needs to sell his secrets, because that is some diet.
Questions that must be answered: did Brendan go jogging around Sunderland this morning and if so, with or without minder? Perhaps, after inventing passing, he's established another innovation - the pre-match mosey around opposition territory. Graeme Souness and Roy Keane might find themselves suddenly back in demand.
Anyone got Kevin Keegan's number?
Meanwhile, in management news, Sunderland have "no designated timetable" as regards finding a successor to Di Canio, and are "assessing all options". Or, put another way, they are devoid of all scoobies as to what they might do next. They are utterly scoobiless.
So, Sunderland are unchanged from midweek's win over Peterborough, and Liverpool are too, despite contriving to lose to the useless, horrendous Manchester United.
Sunderland (4-4-2 ooooh traditional Bally): Westwood; Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Colback; Ki, Cattermole, Larsson, Johnson; Altidore, Giaccherini.
Subs: Wickham, Celustka, Ba, Mannone, Ji, Roberge, Mavrias.
Liverpool (3-5-2 ooooh clever Brendan): Mignolet, Toure, Sakho, Skrtel, Enrique, Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard, Moses, Suarez, Sturridge.
Subs: Brad Jones, Agger, Aspas, Tiago Ilori, Sterling, Ibe, Wisdom.
Referee: Howard Webb (Venice Beach)
There are lots of things in life that are shocking, even when they happen with a frequency that should prevent them from ever being so; how quickly things turn appalling, for example.
Not all that long ago, Paolo Di Canio immortalised himself in Wearside iconography, on his knees at St James' Park in celebration of a crushing derby win – one inspired by Stephane Sessegnon, who also scored the decisive goal in the following game, which effectively kept them up. Now, Di Canio's gone, there's no particular prospect of a permanent replacement, Sessegnon's inspiring West Brom, and the club are bottom of the league.
Meanwhile, Liverpool started the season perfectly, with three narrow and arguably lucky wins - a run they've since followed with a lucky draw, an abject defeat and an unlucky defeat. Daniel Agger has achieved injury once more, Lucas still isn't the same following his, and Luis Suarez is due a suspension; they're not about to go down, but with the teams behind them improving, they need to too.