Final Score: Sunderland (H) 0 - Liverpool (A) 1
Sunderland started the game lively and seemed to be up for their manager's cry for more intensity and greater defensive pressure on the ball. They came out flying and initially made life difficult for Liverpool. Their approach was to put pressure on Liverpool once Liverpool entered, with possession, into their half of the field. However, as the half preceded this line of confrontation dropped a little backward. My problem with Sunderland's approach is they don't have the players to be a very effective counter attacking team. They lack the necessary pace. Johnson and Borini aren’t flyers; instead they like the ball to their feet in order to be tricky and inventive. Despite this fact, I thought Sunderland were at their most dangerous when they were in transition going forward and would switch the ball wide to #3 Van Aanholt getting forward. He did an excellent job bombing forward and chances usually derived from him getting involved in the build-up.
Liverpool in the first half did a great job of having their attacking midfielders interchange. Firmino and Coutinho would swap positions frequently and made marking difficult for Sunderland players. In my opinion, Liverpool play their best by getting Countinho as many touches as possible and letting him dictate the forward play. His license to roam changes the shape of the defense because players tend to leave their shape put pressure on him. Countinho drops deep to get the ball off Can and then looks to play forward by combining with others. Liverpool generated some good chances from quick link-up play and also from Sunderland switching off defensively.
At half, I would've told Sunderland to continue to look to switch it early in transition for Van Aanholt, especially if Borini wants to drift inside. For Liverpool, I would've have stressed patience in possession and continue to move the ball quickly and look to drag Sunderland defenders out of shape.
Benteke got his goal in the 46th minute but ultimately it was a result of sloppy Sunderland play in the middle of the field combined with not being quick to pick up marks in transition. Wes Brown needed to be more alert. I don't think there was a lot between the two teams but still think Liverpool did enough to win. Sunderland still needs to build an identity. Will they be a countering team or a team that builds from the back through possession? This is their major problem and needs to be addressed in the transfer market.