Barclays Premier League – August 25th 2007.
Sunderland 0 Liverpool 2
Liverpool ended their 2-0 win over Sunderland with two of their three recognised central defenders injured. Sami Hyypia was replaced after 15 minutes following an earlier injury to his nose which would not stop bleeding, and was causing blurred vision: it was later confirmed to be a broken nose. Sami may still have to play on Tuesday despite the injury, after his fellow centre-back Jamie Carragher went off injured too. In Carra’s case it seems more serious, a rib injury caused accidentally by the knee of Pepe Reina. There is still no official news from the club as to whether the ribs were broken or bruised, or how long he’s set to be out for – but it could be as much as six weeks.
Centre-half was the only position Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez didn’t really have covered by his “two players for every position” plans, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move for some cover before the transfer window closes on Friday. The club confirmed today that young Argentine centre-back Gabriel Paletta had joined Boca Juniors in a permanent deal, after making just eight appearances for the club. He was often on the bench last season, as effectively Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back, but his lack of pace was considered a serious weakness for English football. Liverpool used Alvaro Arbeloa at centre-back yesterday after Carra went off, the right-back moving from left-back to do so. Left-back Fabio Aurelio started full training again last week again too, which could allow John Arne Riise to play as a make-shift centre-back should circumstances – and opponents – permit, although Rafa may take a chance on promoting Jack Hobbs from his young reserve squad.
If Rafa does have to field a weaker defence than he will at least have the reassurance that his offensive players are performing well. Fernando Torres was a constant threat to Sunderland, both with his own chances at goal and the chances he created. Andriy Voronin is turning into the bargain of the summer after his free transfer. Momo Sissoko – who actually started out as a striker earlier in his career – finally scored his first goal for Liverpool yesterday, and along with Xabi Alonso made sure Liverpool didn’t really miss injured captain Steven Gerrard too much. Momo’s goal was Liverpool’s 7000th league goal.
This was the type of fixture that would have seen Liverpool come home with dropped points: a lunchtime kick-off after an international break against opposition treating the game as one of a number of ‘cup finals’ over the course of the season. Liverpool’s 1-0 lead didn’t reflect their domination, but until that second goal went in their lead was vulnerable. Rafa hinted that the difference between this season and last was that the squad had improved substantially: “The team was very good and we showed we have a better squad this season. It is important to see different players doing the job. We have a stronger squad now and we know we have the confidence in the players. It was special for Momo to score our 7,000th goal and he’s now in the record books. I thought Torres, Voronin, Pennant and Babel caused the Sunderland defence a lot of problems.” Rafa was mindful of the need to kill teams off more quickly: “We created a lot of chances and we could have finished off the game a lot earlier. It’s not good as a manager for my heart seeing us miss chances, but Voronin scored a good goal to get us the win.”
Liverpool are now fourth in the early league table, with a game in hand on those above them, after a start that has included two away wins: “I am really pleased to get another away win under our belts. Our away form let us down last season and we have started much more positively. It was really important for us. The team showed character.”
With regards the injuries Rafa said: “Sami lost the vision in his left eye and may well have broken his nose. Jamie is in a lot of pain and I’m not sure if either will be involved against Toulouse. We’ll wait and see.”
Sunderland boss Roy Keane is – to put it very lightly – not someone who has been very well-liked at Anfield over the years. It’s going to take a lot more than a few kind words for that depth of feeling to go, but he does seem to be a different person as manager than he ever was as a player. He said after the game: “Liverpool have a good chance to win the league – we saw that with the strength in depth they showed today. I can’t have too many complaints. I was delighted with our effort, we showed some quality bits of quality but it wasn’t our day. It’s always going to be tough when you play against teams like Liverpool and we have to learn quickly in these games. Sometimes you’ve got to take your medicine and accept defeat – our players will learn from this.”
The scorer of that 7000th Liverpool league goal, Momo Sissoko, said: “I am very happy, not only because I’ve got my first goal for the club, but also because the team won. This was a very good result. It’s been a long time coming – I’m in my third year here! I was very surprised to score but I want to go on and score many goals for Liverpool.” Regarding the opposition he’d scored against, the Malian international said: “Sunderland are a very good team, but we played well today. We are going to have to work hard to win games. There’s no need to talk about the title at this stage of the season – we just need to keep winning games.”
Sunderland: Gordon, Halford, McShane, Nosworthy, Wallace, Miller, Etuhu, Yorke (Leadbitter, 61), Richardson (Stokes, 20), Chopra, Murphy (Connolly, 78).
Unused subs: Ward, Anderson.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher (Riise, 75), Hyypia (Agger, 15), Arbeloa, Pennant, Alonso, Sissoko, Babel (Kuyt, 88), Torres, Voronin.
Unused subs: Itandje, Mascherano.
Goals: Sissoko 37, Voronin 87.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).