Liverpool bounced back from their midweek exit in the Europa League by recording a comfortable win over Sunderland in the Premier League to keep their hopes of qualifying for next year’s competition alive. The Black Cats themselves went into the game knowing their slim chances of competing for a European qualification place would be significantly boosted if they could pick up a victory against their opponents, but the truth is that they were by far second best for much of the game.
The game appeared out of the hosts reach long before Luis Suarez had added a scintillating second to Dirk Kuyt’s controversial first-half penalty, mainly thanks to Liverpool’s resolute defending. The Mackems were also hamstrung by a number of injuries to key players during the game, losing Sulley Muntari and Kieron Richardson within the first 20 minutes. That forced Steve Bruce into a series of tactical reshuffles and his side never really looked comfortable on the ball after that, thanks mainly to former Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll, and his presence up front.
Those inside the Stadium of Light were unlikely to have forgotten Carroll’s association with the team down the road, but the £35m man silenced the boos with an efficient performance. While he did not score, Carroll caused the Sunderland defence constant problems with his height and strength, and provided a perfect foil for Suarez. The Uruguayan, coming face to face with Asamoah Gyan for the first time since the World Cup, continued his fine form for the Reds, proving to be a constant nuisance alongside Carroll. Though Suarez was effective when linking up with his strike partner’s flick-ons, his intelligent running was also key to Liverpool’s threat in the attacking third and he was eventually rewarded with a fine strike.
Suarez was also responsible for the sending off of John Mensah, the Ghanaian adding to Steve Bruce’s woes by hauling down the striker when clean through on goal. That, coupled with the loss of Richardson, Muntari and Danny Welbeck will not help Sunderland as the season draws to a close. Not only are the Black Cats’ European ambitions all but over, they will also now have to be wary of being sucked into a relegation battle. Despite remaining in the top half of the table, Sunderland are now just six points clear of the relegation zone, and in this topsy-turvy season, a continuation of the run that has seen Bruce’s men lose five of their last six games could well see them dragged into a battle at the wrong end of the table.
Liverpool, by contrast, continue to grow under Kenny Dalglish. Without influential captain Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing put in an accomplished performance that saw the Reds dominate possession and provide more of an attacking threat than their opponents. Recovering from their Europa League setback was key for Dalglish and his men, and they did it comfortably. Now, their aim must continue their winning ways.