[dropcap]A[/dropcap] solitary Christian Benteke strike 22 seconds into the second half gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory against Sunderland last night and moved the Merseyside club to within five points of the Premier League’s top four.
Jürgen Klopp has replaced the dismissed Brendan Rodgers at Anfield and clearly has a significant task on his hands to replicate the success he spearheaded at former club Borussia Dortmund.
The result at the Stadium of Light was the most important thing for a Reds side that had not won in three previous away games in all competitions – but the German trainer cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines for most of the encounter.
A very ordinary challenge by Jeremain Lens on Mamadou Sakho close to the end of the game saw Klopp explode and berate both the fourth official and opposite number Sam Allardyce.
Despite the dangerous nature of the tackle, the Liverpool manager should have other concerns at the final whistle after a flat performance from his team.
Sunderland started the game with a three-man central midfield in an attempt to shackle the visitors’ playmakers, which initially worked but faltered for the majority of the game.
As such, Liverpool’s midfielders repeatedly found plenty of space between the Black Cats lines, with it becoming apparent just why the Wearside club are in their current predicament and have conceded a whopping 38 goals this season.
However, it took a moment of luck when an inadvertent touch from Adam Lallana sent Benteke through on goal to decide the encounter.
Klopp and the travelling support were forced to endure a nervy last couple of minutes due to the Reds’ forward line misfiring and failing to convert other gilt-edged chances that fell their way.
The major issue that the German tactician will have to overcome if Liverpool are to finish in the Champions League qualification berths this season is a lack of accuracy.
Across midfield and in attack, had passes and deliveries been more crisp and precise the visitors could well have won the game at a canter.
As it was, everyone from Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in midfield to the usually immaculate Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Lallana and Benteke were guilty of misplaced passes, poor control and a lack of composure.
This was initialised early in the clash when Coutinho put Firmino through on goal down the left, but the ball ended up out for a Sunderland goal kick.
The former Inter Milan playmaker overhit his pass, with his compatriot not able to take it in his stride and subsequently wasting a clear-cut chance.
There were plenty more occasions where good movement led to promising positions against a positionally naive opponent, but the final pass failed to find its destination.
When the chances did come, although Vito Mannone made some good saves, the Liverpool attackers lacked a clinical edge and accuracy.
Towards the end of the game Klopp became irate and almost emotional on the sidelines at his side’s inability to keep the ball and repeated handing of possession back to the hosts.
Benteke, who has come under criticism since moving to Merseyside in the summer, was effective in linking up with his team-mates when the ball was played into his feet – the problem was that most of the time the supply to him lacked accuracy and the Reds simply surrendered possession.
From a positive perspective, full-backs Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne offered real width and onrushing offensive outlets, with the pair arguably Liverpool’s source of most attacking joy.
Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana possess a wealth of quality that was not apparent in the clash, but have already shown just how potent they can be in away wins over Chelsea and Manchester City.
The Liverpool travelling support will return home satisfied with their victory, but Klopp has work to do on the training ground to make the side sharper and more accurate – only then can the Reds be considered real top four challengers.
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