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Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland: A game of two halves

After a few days of tossing the match through my head again, I think the best way to sum up Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland on Saturday is to say it was a sideways step.

Luis Suarez opened the scoring in the 12th minute on a flicked header on a free kick from new signing Charlie Adam. Suarez’s goal comes minutes after blasting a PK over the bar in the 7th minute.

Sunderland equalized on a sublime volley from Seb Larsson – signed from relegated side Birmingham City this summer – in the 57th minute. Larsson found himself unmarked in the box, took a few steps back, and side-footed the ball into the far post.

Starting XI
4-2-3-1

Reina
Flanagan | Carragher | Agger | Enrique
Lucas | Adam
Henderson | Suarez | Downing
Carroll

Subs: Doni, Robinson, Kelly, Kuyt, Spearing, Meireles, N’gog

The first half of the game saw Liverpool dominate. For 35 minutes, it seemed the “new look” Liverpool, which included new signings Adam, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, and Jose Enrique starting, could go on to win the league the way they were playing. The possession was good, the passing accurate, and Kenny Dalglish’s “pass and move” philosophy was a thing of beauty.

Then it all came to a screeching halt.

Suarez, not fully fit from his Most Valuable Player performance in Uruguay’s tournament-winning Copa America run, was clearly gassed in the second half and was rightfully subbed off – even it was ultimately a detriment to the team.

Striker Andy Carroll stopped receiving passes on the ground, instead being used as a homing beacon for longball from the back line and midfield.

Henderson didn’t really show  much attacking-wise, beyond maintaining possession.

Downing was a threat starting on the left, but once switched to the right lost effectiveness.

The passing was dreadful.

In the end, Sunderland deserved a draw, if only for how poor Liverpool played in the second half.

Dalglish got his starting lineup right, for the most part, and the first half performance was title-winning quality. Suarez unexpectedly started – with only five days of training – and Henderson started over Dirk Kuyt. Granted, Kuyt is a natural forward and not  a natural winger, but I haven’t seen anything from Henderson yet that warrants his place in the starting XI over Kuyt, who absolutely killed in the second half of last season.

Then there’s the bench and Dalglish’s substitutions. Hindsight is always 20/20, but even before the game I thought it was a mistake to have Raul Meireles on the bench ahead of Alberto Aquilani. This isn’t a knock on Meireles; he’s had an ankle injury this summer, causing him to miss all but 30 minutes of preseason. Once Meireles came on, he was rusty and didn’t bring anything to the match.

Aquilani, on the other, is coming off some pretty good performances for Liverpool in preseason after spending a season-long loan at Juventus. Much has been made about whether the Aquaman wants to stay at Liverpool or return home to play in Italy or whether Dalglish “rates him” or not or if he can “cut it in the Premier League.”

All of this is much ado about nothing. Liverpool fans know Aquilani’s skill set: good, smart, and accurate passer. Play the matchup. In the second half when the Reds’ passing had gone to hell, surely Aquilani could have come on and spread the ball much better than the longballs of Adam, Jamie Carragher, and Daniel Agger?

But the important thing to remember is that it was the first game of the season. There are still 37 more to go, and if Liverpool can play the whole season the way they played in the first half, there are going to be a lot of smiles on Merseyside come May.

Man of the Match: Luis Suarez. “El Pistolero” didn’t miss a step (beyond his penalty!) in his first match since the Copa America final and is looking more and more like the eventual Player of the Year.

Needs to do better: Everybody. It would be unfair to slag off a youngster like John Flanagan when the entire team was awful in the second half. Once Sunderland equalized, the team looked defeated. At. Anfield. Pick it up.

Player to keep on eye on: Stewart Downing. Yeah, he was £20 million, but his brilliant cut inside shows he has all the ability to play a massive role for Liverpool this season.

Side note: Sunderland fans unveiled a “SAFC Want Justice for the 96” banner in memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough as well as paying tribute to the victims. Massive props and a very classy move!

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