Liverpool 2 Sunderland 0
As the words left David Moyes’ throat, they must have seared like few others he has had to utter at Anfield over the years.
After another fruitless visit to this arena — this was his 14th failed attempt at winning here — Moyes gave an assessment of Liverpool that might have been accurate but cannot fail to have pained a man who for so long had to live in their shadow on the other side of Stanley Park.
“As well as having quality players, they are an extremely hard-working team,” Moyes said of Jurgen Klopp’s side, shortly after Liverpool’s 2-0 victory briefly sent them back to the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
“They’ve got a good style of how they do it with good attackers. It’s a strong team and a team which will challenge for the title.”
That was about as lyrical as Moyes was willing to wax — especially as a health and safety conscious steward was trying to move him out of the corridor where he was speaking — but his words carried weight, if not length.
Liverpool certainly are title contenders, and yet they underlined that with a display that was frustrating rather than charming, infuriating rather than fun. A severe looking ankle injury for Philippe Coutinho hardly helped engender a sense of joie de vivre on Merseyside either.
Yet the good news for Klopp and his side is that they worked out what they had to do and got on and did it, as goals from Divock Origi and James Milner wrapped this encounter up late on.
If Liverpool are going to end their 26-year long wait for the top-flight title, then they will have to endure afternoons like Saturday and teams like Sunderland — desperate for a point and determined to do anything to get it.
“I don’t know about it being enjoyable,” Klopp said. “I didn’t enjoy it a lot, because it was hard work, but they are all important.
“Maybe it’s a surprise but we don’t celebrate each game like we will never win again. We expect beforehand that we will win against Sunderland but also we knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Easy it most certainly was not. In a first half overshadowed by Coutinho’s woes — he was stretchered off with his right leg in a brace and awaits further assessment — Liverpool simply could not break down a Sunderland side that, all of a sudden, looks united and defensively tight.
Emre Can, Coutinho himself, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and, especially, Dejan Lovren, all had wonderful opportunities but the match remained goalless as Anfield began to vibrate with frustration and angst.
The crowd knew that games against Sunderland are the kind of matches Liverpool have to win without a second thought if they are going to be title contenders and the fact Moyes was reading from a different — far more defensive — script was treated like it was almost an affront.
“I think there is no doubt this team is ready to play against parked buses,” Klopp added. “We have all the skills, but you need to be patient. If you score early — and you saw it, if we scored the first goal, then we get the second, the third, the fourth or whatever — so that’s how it is. That opens the game.
“It’s about the timing of when you get the first one. And the longer you don’t, the most important thing is you don’t get frustrated because we need to get used to situations like this.”
Klopp did not quite practice what he preached in the second half, running down the touchline shortly after the restart to implore the Kop to cheer louder in a bid to get the crucial first goal.
It finally arrived via Origi, who had looked a threat since replacing Coutinho, as his speculative effort from the edge of the box beat everybody to nestle into the far corner with 15 minutes to go.
All of a sudden, Sunderland had a match to chase. Striker Victor Anichebe returned to the frontline, rather than his hitherto spot as a second left-back, but the visitors could not find a forward gear after spending so long in neutral and Milner’s late penalty — after Didier Ndong hauled down Mane — sealed a match Liverpool will already have forgotten about.
“We don’t have the same quality as Liverpool,” Moyes said. “I knew we had to come here and defend. Maybe if I was a foreign coach, I would’ve been praised for that.
“We’ve won two games, then come here, which was a difficult one for us. We’ve got to try and keep building on it. We weren’t too far away from getting a point out of the game.”
LIVERPOOL (4-3-2-1): Karius 6; Clyne 7, Lovren 7, Matip 7, Milner 6; Henderson 7, Can 6, Wijnaldum 7 (Woodburn 90); Mane 7, Coutinho 7 (Origi 34, 8); Firmino 6 (Lucas 87)
Subs not used: Mignolet (gk), Klavan, Moreno, Ejaria.
SUNDERLAND (4-3-2-1): Pickford 7; Jones 7, Kone 6, O’Shea 7, van Aanholt 7; Ndong 6, Denayer 7, Pienaar 6 (Januzaj 77, 6); Watmore 6 (Gooch 77, 6), Anichebe 6; Defoe 7
Subs not used: Mannone (gk), Larsson, Khazri, Manquillo, Love.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
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