Liverpool 2 Sunderland 0
Origi (75’), Milner (90+1’ pen)
Man of the Match: Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Sometimes seasons can be distilled into moments, instants that reveal much and change the course of history. Should Liverpool’s campaign end in glory, they may remember Divock Origi’s opener, arriving when they seemed doomed to successive stalemates.
They may cherish thoughts of a catalytic Jurgen Klopp, a manic figure gesticulating manically that the supporters had to be louder, as they in turn prompted his team to turn up the volume on Sunderland.
“I believe in atmosphere,” said the German, whose motivational powers stretch from the dressing room to the stands. “Atmosphere makes everything easier. I tried to remind the crowd. They reacted brilliantly.”
Yet should a 27th year elapse without Liverpool being crowned champions, an otherwise nondescript game may be recalled for the sight of Philippe Coutinho departing on a stretcher, perhaps taking his side’s hopes with him. “It was very painful,” Klopp said. A scan will determine the severity of the injury, though this may prove the last Anfield sees of its greatest talent for quite some time.
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The newly retired Steven Gerrard was an onlooker. He is indelibly associated with a moment when a previous title challenge went awry; it is now 30 months since his infamous slip against Chelsea. Klopp fashioned the best Liverpool team, with the most pace and the greatest goal threat, since then.
Yet Coutinho is the class act. He has had a golden autumn, illuminating Anfield with his brilliance. The onset of winter brought a chill to Liverpool. Their best player was stretchered off, with his right leg heavily strapped, after being tackled by Didier Ndong.
Without him, Liverpool missed someone with precision and incision until Origi intervened. Victory was then completed by James Milner from the penalty spot after Ndong had felled Sadio Mane, whose lightning pace was finally displayed to maximum effect.
After 4-1, 5-1 and 6-1 victories at Anfield, this was a more subdued affair. It is unrealistic to expect Liverpool to perform with barnstorming brilliance every week, but it underlined the importance of the absent Adam Lallana and the hurt Coutinho.
With Daniel Sturridge also sidelined, Klopp’s squad looked stretched. Origi was the only experienced attacking substitute, and he mustered a belatedly first league goal of the campaign.
“You can play how you want, where you want and as often as you want but in the end you want someone who shoots in the goal,” Klopp said. “He deserved it very, very much.”
The German attributed the earlier sense of stasis to Sunderland’s negativity.
“I don’t think I have ever played against a more defensive team,” he said. “They were man-marking Coutinho [with Jason Denayer].”
He felt Victor Anichebe, scorer of three goals in Sunderland’s previous two games, was operating as an ersatz left-back. David Moyes kept nine outfield players behind the ball. “We defended well and stuck to the task,” Moyes said.
Dejan Lovren had headed wide, Roberto Firmino had a series of shots and, after Klopp’s dramatic intervention, Emre Can almost struck with a half-volley. Then Origi, Coutinho’s replacement, found the net in Coutinho-esque fashion, whipping the ball into the far corner of the net. “I don’t know if it was a cross or a shot,” Moyes said, though it was the latter.
He has still never won at Anfield, a statistic highlighted during his 11-year stay at Everton, and lamented “a great chance” Duncan Watmore had spurned at 0-0.
Yet Loris Karius had a solitary save to make, when he denied Steven Pienaar, Liverpool had 78 per cent of possession and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had more touches than any of this teammates. And that isn’t even counting the two when he had to retrieve the ball from his net.
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