A Lazar Markovic finish seperated Liverpool and Sunderland at a windy Stadium Of Light in a game that the Reds thoroughly controlled. The win put Liverpool on 32 points whilst Sunderland were left with huge relegation worries.
Liverpool started the much better and should have had a penalty after three minutes when Serbian Markovic was brought down by Wes Brown, however referee Craig Pawson wasn't interested and waved play on. Markovic didn't let it get to him by firing his side ahead after a good interchange between Coutinho and Gerrard. His toe-poked finish squeezing between the legs of Sunderland 'keeper Costel Pantilimon
Liverpool continued to dominate and missed a host of chances. Gerrard saw a shot well saved by Pantilimon before Jordan Henderson's effort hit the post. Markovic, dazzling throughout, almost made it 2-0 with a stunning volley from the edge of the area which clattered against the bar. Fabio Borini should have furthered the lead after rounding Pantilimon, but his shot found the side netting.
In a game filled with yellow cards, it was Liam Bridcutt who recieved his second after blocking off Emre Can, reducing Sunderland to 10 men. Surprisingly, this led to Sunderland growing into the game as the wind whipped a long range shot from Adam Johnson onto the cross bar.
Sunderland then went on the offensive, attempting to grind out a draw however Rodgers' Reds held on and took the three points back to Merseyside. Here's five things we learned from the game.
1. Markovic getting better and better.
Lazar Markovic cut a fairly forlorn figure during his first few months at Anfield as he had limited opportunities and didn't look sharp whenever he played. As with all big money moves who don't start well, the term 'flop' started to be banded about however he has proved recently that he certainly has what it takes to wear the red of Liverpool. His passing, dribbling, pace, shooting, versality and even defending skills have been on show recently as he has excelled in a wing back role either on the left or right. He was rightly accredited with the man of the match award following his performance against Sunderland. He should have had a penalty early on, before scoring the games only goal and then having a contender for 'best non goal' of the season as his volley hit the woodwork. Pushed into a more advanced role during the second half, Markovic continued to cause Sunderland problems, and performances like this will give fans hope that he can do great things at Liverpool.
2. Lucas has to stay at the club.
Liverpool fans have been crying out for a top quality defensive midfielder for some time now and it turns out he may already be there. Lucas Leiva doesn't have the physical look demanded or play the eloquent passes some do, however recently he has done a very good job of marshalling Liverpool's three man back line. He was superb against Sunderland, making tackles at crucial times and reading the game well to intercept the ball. The Brazilian barely put a foot wrong and allowed his partner Jordan Henderson to be more costless when moving about the pitch. With reported interest from Inter Milan, it would be foolish from Liverpool to let him go without having a sound replacement sorted. The proof is in the pudding, as here is Liverpool's record with and without Lucas in the Premier League this season-
When Lucas plays- WLWWWDDWWD
When Lucas doesn't play- LWLDWDLLLL
3. Borini isn't good enough.
After Rickie Lambert's start against Milwall, Fabio Borini was the second LFC striker given a chance during Raheem Sterling's rest period. He was the second to fail. Presumbaly fired up to impress against the club that adored him during his loan spell last season, he picked up a needless yellow card that impacted on his ablity to press for the rest of the game. Chances were missed, the best one he had being when he rounded the goalkeeper just before half time but failed to knock the ball into the net. This inability to convert chances didn't matter on the day, largely due to Sunderland's poor quality however better teams will hurt Liverpool if they continue to fluff their lines when shooting. The overdue return of frontman Daniel Sturridge is expected soon, and will be met with a sigh of relief. As for the Italian, he is surely now going to fall behind Sturridge, Sterling, Balotelli and maybe Lambert in the pecking order. Perhaps he may regret not accepting moves to Sunderland or QPR in the summer.
4. Minimal business for Liverpool.
Okay, we didn't learn this in the actual game of football. Brendan Rodgers, to the horror of some Liverpool fans, said in his post match interview that there wouldn't be much business in the January transfer window. Rodgers cited the "large amount of money spent in the summer" as an explanation for the lack of business. Rumours circulate that Liverpool are working to bring back Divock Origi from his loan spell at Lille, whilst a goalkeeper is being considered due to the poor form of Simon Mignolet and Brad Jones. Further deals than these are unlikely, however with new signings such as Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and the already mentioned Lazar Markovic coming into form, The Reds may not need as many signings as it appeared they did a couple of months ago.
5. There is reason for optimism.
After their worst start to the season for many, many years there were calls for Brendan Rodgers to be sacked. With change of formation and one defeat in thirteen later, those calls have subsided. The win over Sunderland could leave Liverpool just four points from the Champions League places come the end of the weekend. The Reds also remain in the League Cup (semi final against Chelsea) and the FA Cup (4th round at home to Bolton) with domestic success a real possibity. Despite being knocked out of the Champions League, they remain in European competition and have a chance of revenge on Demba Ba with a Europa League round of 32 tie against Besiktas later in the month. With Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling all set to return in the coming weeks, this could still turn out to be a successful season for Liverpool.