Saturday 25th August
In the 12.45 kick off Liverpool faced a very tricky fixture away at Sunderland, the kind of team that in previous seasons may have put a dent in any Liverpool title challenge. Rafa Benitez has already made his thoughts clear when it comes to Liverpool’s fixtures after European and international games and so after a week of international games, predictably, Liverpool have an early Saturday kick off while Manchester United have a later Sunday kick off. Actually United need the rest as they are in desperate need of a result, just because Liverpool can turn out a result with little rest doesn’t mean they can does it?
Liverpool went to newly promoted Sunderland off the back of some good results on the field but some bad results off it. Liverpool were denied the services of Gabriel Heinze from the Salford reds as the premier league predictably ruled in their favour. Even though Heinze had a letter signed, sating he was free to move if the price was right, the letter failed to specify which clubs could buy him. The 3 man panel of United fans, I mean independent football type people judged that even though the letter did not rule out any team from buying Heinze, United probably should have stated that Liverpool were out of bounds. The panel, in its infinite wisdom decided that that fact should be understood, written or not and Heinze was denied what he longed for, a move from Manchester to Liverpool, he has now signed for Real Madrid.
On the field Liverpool fared better this week (unlike last week when Rob Styles gifted Chelsea a point) when they travelled away to Roy Keane’s Sunderland. Sunderland flew up from the Championship last season but will be among the favourites to go back down, Keane seems to have the right qualities as a manger and I think he will keep them up and he could even become a regular in the league. Sunderland also had the opportunity to start with a front 2 who would be know to all football fans, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, the very same 2 who had partnered each other at Manchester united alongside Keane. Keane signed Cole the day before the game but confirmed he would play no part; it will be interesting to see if they can rekindle some of the form they had for Manchester united years ago.
The game started well for Liverpool who were dressed in black, with Voronin going close very early on after he ran onto a bad back pass but Gordon saved well. Not long after that Darryl Murphy’s shoulder came out on top in a battle with Sami Hyypia’s nose and the big Finn eventually had to be replaced by Daniel Agger.
Sunderland had a good opportunity when Pennant gave the ball away about 40 yards out, it was fed through the defence and Chopra found himself with the goal in his sights, his tight angle shot beat Reina but it didn’t have enough power to get past the substitute Agger. Liverpool looked likeier to open the scoring, Pennant causing some problems down the right wing and Voronin and Torres always lurking. The break through eventually came when a lofted Alonso pass into the box was headed back by Pennant, it fell to Voronin, who noticed Momo Sissoko steaming up from midfield, he laid it off for him and Sissoko smashed it into the bottom right corner of the net from 20+ yards. Unbelievably it was Sissoko’s first ever goal in a Liverpool shirt, a great way to get off the mark.
Just before the end of the half Liverpool had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 when a bad clearance fell to Voronin, he fed it to Pennant who crossed first time to find the head of Torres. A good save from Gordon down to his left, he then turned and scrambled to the ball before it crossed the line, after today's performance Keane will be looking for all those boo boys in the media who criticised him for spending what could end up being 9m for a goalkeeper.
Early in the second half Gordon would come to Sunderland’s rescue again with a fine save, the ball was given away by Sunderland on the halfway line, it was picked up by Torres who had 2 men to beat, they closed in on him from both sides, he knocked the ball through the middle of them and sprinted through the gap, he got a solid shot off that hit a well placed Gordon square in the chest. The story was all too familiar, Liverpool looked like they had a problem in closing a game out, in so many seasons past we have taken the lead only to waste opportunities to kill it off and regretted it later. Bad news was to come for Liverpool when Jamie Carragher was injured in a collision whilst trying to defend a free kick, the knock looked innocent enough but it was confirmed later that he had broken a rib, not a good ay for Liverpool center backs!
Sunderland came close with a snap shot from Stokes but Reina saw it go wide of his right post. A good piece of skill by Torres saw him go past a defender to the byline, his pulled back cross ended up at the feet of Voronin and his powered shot was again stopped by Gordon, not that he knew too much about it. The killer blow, which has been lacking in previous seasons, was eventually delivered to an outclassed Sunderland side in a nice team goal. Babel and Pennant played one two with Pennant back heeling his pass back to Babel. He in turn passed across to Torres; Voronin was outside him running ahead and was fed the ball by the young Spaniard. With a defender in front of him the Ukrainian striker turned him to put the ball on his right foot and placed it in the far bottom corner of the net from about 16 yards, my man of the match, Craig Gordon got a touch but it wasn’t enough, 2-0. The game was finally closed out with 3 minutes of normal time to go; a little earlier in the future will do many red nerves the world of good.
In the 3pm games Arsenal won their home game against a rampant Man City 1-0, Chelsea beat Portsmouth 1-0 at Stamford Bridge with a trademark goal by Frank Lampard, it went in off someone else, this time the keeper.
Sammy Lee got some relief when Bolton won 3-0 at home against Reading, Relegation candidates Derby and Birmingham fought over 3 potentially priceless points with Birmingham coming out on top 2-1. West Ham and Wigan took a point each at Upton Park and Villa beat Fulham 2-1 at home.
In the Sunday games the North East derby between Boro and Newcastle saw 4 goals, each side scoring 2 and Manchester United had to rely on some bad refereeing to secure their first win of the season against Spurs. The Londoners were denied a clear penalty for handball and United had to rely on a great strike of the ball from Nani, not exactly the kind of win or goal that would inspire confidence for coming games including Keane’s return to Old Trafford, Everton at Goodison and Chelsea at home.
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