EPL: Liverpool v Sunderland, Anfield 3pm, 13/8/2011 (Result 1-1)

It was an interesting starting line-up. New signing Jose Enrique started at left back, with Flanagan on the right, and a midfield of Lucas, Adam, Henderson and Downing, with Suarez and Carroll up front.

We started brightly and soon began to knock the ball around to find the gaps with a fair degree of fluency. Enrique looks to have a good first touch and Adam was showing how he can influence things from the middle, whilst we were also working the ball wide to Henderson or Downing, but Sunderland defended their flanks quite well. Then came a golden chance, as an attempted clearance was hit at Suarez, and he pounced and ran through with the ball, but was taken out by Richardson before he could slot home. The penalty was awarded, but somehow referee Phil Dowd did not think that the foul prevented a goal scoring opportunity, and only booked Richardson, to the incredulity of the Liverpool support – and then Suarez blazed the penalty over.

Shortly after though, we got a free kick on the left, which Charlie Adam  – who didn’t hang about at all to take it – angled it in to the near post and Suarez flicked it in for 1-0.

We dominated, but that final piece of luck or that final touch deserted us. Carroll thought he had made it 2-0 but seemed to be harshly adjudged to have fouled his opponent when going up for the ball, which he had taken down and slammed into the net from close range. A terrific run from Downing from the left and across the front of the penalty area ended with a shot that hit the crossbar and bounced over. Both teams however seemed to be tiring as we came to half time.

The second half performance was a near total contrast. Suddenly, the passes into Suarez were going astray as he kept changing direction as the ball was being played to him, suggesting that there had not been enough team training including him to put him on the same wavelength as everyone else. The passing became a little sloppier and the fluidity that was there for significant periods in the first half just disappeared. Long balls up to Andy Carroll were, on the whole, well handled by Sunderland, but we seemed to revert to that game, and shades of the Braga game last season loomed large. We just were not threatening.

Sunderland were not posing much threat either and seemed to want to contain at the back and get the ball to quick and tricky players, such as Gyan, and they did successfully beat a couple of players on occasion before any such move fizzled out, but then we gifted them an opportunity.

The one criticism of new boy Jose Enrique (who does appear to be a good buy and generally had a decent game) was that he sometimes seemed to stand-off a little bit on the wings, giving the opportunity for the wingers to cross. He was one of about three Liverpool players who seemed to get drawn to the ball on one occasion in the second half which led to a short pull-back which resulted in a cross to the far post where an unmarked Larsson shaped to volley at goal in such a way that you knew it was going to be 1-1 before he even hit it. Have to say it was beautifully taken.

There was little in the way of a charge to win the game. Suarez seemed to be becoming petulant out of frustration, which coupled with his being on a different wavelength from his team mates, resulted in his being replaced by Kuyt, but whose endeavour and touch were not enough, as the game petered out as a thoroughly disappointing draw – and a game than Flanagan will probably be happy to forget.

It had started so brightly and looked like being an opening day win – but it ended up looking like we could have done with an extra pre-season friendly.

On the plus side, I liked the look of Jose Enrique, despite the one short-coming I felt was in his game today, and Charlie Adam looks like he could be the best deputy for Steven Gerrard we have seen, to the point where he will be challenging the skipper for a starting place, when Stevie is fit. Downing was a little in and out of the game, but showed how he can run at the opposition, create chances and score and Henderson showed promise with a reasonable if unexceptional performance, but I still think he is more likely to feature on our bench this season.

To sum up, we really should have won this game, and with a touch more luck and a touch more match fitness, we probably would have – but we dropped two points here.

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