Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool – Stadium of Light (16.8.08)
Liverpool’s Premiership season got under way today with a tricky away game to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Liverpool needed to improve on their performance from midweek against Standard Liege and Sunderland were handing out debuts to four players after a busy transfer window for Roy Keane.
Liverpool made two changes from midweek, Steven Gerrard’s involvement from the off was inevitable but everybody expected him to replace Plessis, however our skipper replaced the much more experienced Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park. The other change was Daniel Agger being replaced by Sami Hyypia, who is now in his testimonial year with the Reds. Sunderland’s side did host their new signings Chimbonda, Tanio and Malbranque from Spurs as well as Liverpool’s former number 9 El Hadji Diouf.
With expectation as high as ever that this is the year Liverpool finally win that elusive Premiership title, it was vital we got off to a good start. It didn’t look like that was going to happen when a lazy header back to Reina by Hyypia put Diouf into the clear. Fortunately for us we had Mr Reliable Jamie Carragher to get the tackle in and stop Diouf from a goal on his debut. The former Red wasn’t finished though and not long after he put a great ball into the box only for Daryl Murphy to completely scuff his header and find the grateful arms of Reina in our goal. Diouf continued to cause our new eight million pound left back Andrea Dossena trouble throughout the half and just before the half hour mark Diouf had a curling shot which missed narrowly.
As the half progressed we did come into it though and chalked up our first shot of the game just after thirty minutes when Steven Gerrard dragged a shot wide. This seemed to send the rest of the lads into another gear and our new number 7 had a very good effort just before the break. Despite the game still being goalless, the first half belonged to Sunderland and especially El Hadji Diouf.
The second half started with the introduction of Xabi Alonso for the youngster Plessis. Alonso started to make us tick with some clever passes, he also allowed Gerrard to roam forward with much more ease. Our skipper was again the inspiration in terms of shots as he saw another effort go wide not long after the restart. Yossi Benayoun who’d be ineffective in the first half also sparked into life and tested the Sunderland keeper out in the early stages of the second half. At the other end it was Diouf again who was causing us the most problems.
We continued to press and really should have scored after Craig Gordon palmed Dirk Kuyt’s deflected effort into the path of Torres but Robbie Keane got in El Nino’s way. At this point it looked all but certain a 0-0 draw. Rafa Benitez started to make some more changes and again Robbie Keane failed to complete ninety minutes for his new club. He was replaced by Nabil El Zhar, something that didn’t please the Republic of Ireland international too much. El Zhar took up the right wing and Dirk Kuyt, who’d be a bystander for most of the match, took up a more central role. Our final substitution was Fabio Aurelio who replaced Benayoun down the left wing, who again had been poor.
The changes didn’t halt Liverpool’s onslaught to Gordon’s goal and an effort from Xabi Alonso within his own half had the Scottish international beat, but it also beat the post. It was getting desperate for us now but we continued to press.
Finally after all our hard work it paid off. A Xabi Alonso pass found it’s way to Fernando Torres who turned brilliantly and was facing goal. One swing of his boot from around twenty-five yards out and into the bottom corner. Liverpool had taken all three points. It was a great goal from our number 9, who else?
The final whistle blew and we had maximum points from the opening game. A massive boost and keeps us up to speed with Arsenal who won earlier in the day. We can now concentrate on Middlesborough at Anfield in a week’s time.
The Middlesborough game has to be a huge improvement in terms of performance and a few players really need to pick their socks up. But with the Olympics coming towards the end and our injury list shortening, our squad is getting back to full strength. A comfortable win over Middlesborough and progression in the Champions League after that and we can start to really believe.