Kevin Ball kept the same team that beat Peterborough United in midweek, with Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini flanking lone frontman Jozy Altidore. Luis Suarez made his Premier League return for Liverpool, combining with Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses in what looked to be a fluid attacking contingent for the visitors.
Both teams adopted similar game plans when it came to dealing with the respective forwards. A ‘defend by committee' approach was used whenever Suarez received possession - often having to navigate his way through several defenders. The graph below indicates how Suarez found it difficult in dribbling situations, despite his obvious prowess in that area. There was one instance in the first half whereby the ploy failed, but the Uruguayan's shot from the edge of the area faded away from goal.
Liverpool's back three all had to face Altidore in aerial duels at some point, with the American fairing best against Kolo Toure. Altidore's 8 aerial duel wins was the most of any player, whilst he was also the most fouled player, although his battles with Mamadou Sahko could easily have yielded more free-kicks. Again, Altidore also found himself facing several defenders with the ball at his feet, as two of his three efforts on goal were blocked.
Giac The Lad
Tactically, a lot of the performance resembled what Martin O'Neill wanted Sunderland to become: disciplined, organised, with the emphasis on getting the ball quickly to the men capable of doing something with it. In regards to the latter, Sunderland was successful, as Jack Colback found Ki and Giaccherini 19 times each - the two highest pass combinations in the game.
The graph above indicates that Giaccherini was often found high up the pitch - albeit close to the touchline - and the Italian was productive in those areas. His four attempts at goal (one off target and one blocked in addition to his goal) was only bettered in the game by Suarez.
The Ki Man
Ki Sung-Yeung gave further insight into why he was brought in by Director of Football Roberto De Fanti. The South Korean midfielder completed the most passes in the game - enabling Sunderland to continue exerting pressure - and was exemplary in the final third.
The On-Field General
It would be remiss to analyse the game and not mention Lee Cattermole's performance - or impact on his team-mates. Statistically, Cattermole did not stand out; he made three tackles, one interception, and his passing was generally effective. Those that enjoy deciphering matches by looking at certain figures will have bypassed Cattermole's organisation in an area of the Sunderland team that so far this season, has resembled barren wasteland. He was proactive in possession - often switching the play to capitalise on team-mates finding themselves free - which was best illustrated by his scooped pass over the Liverpool back four that released Craig Gardner in on goal.
This was a game in which Sunderland enjoyed more than its fair share of. Despite being 2-0 down at half-time, the interval brought up a period that Sunderland had made more, and completed more passes than a side renowned for keeping the ball well. Sunderland was credited with 23 chances at goal - just two fewer than against Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion combined.
In the second half, the visitors addressed the possession deficit, but Sunderland was still able to build pressure up to and following Giaccherini's goal. The graph below displays that the visitors were forced into making over twice as many clearances as the hosts, with Sunderland often lacking a target in central areas besides Altidore. That both teams cleared the ball effectively opened up the middle of the pitch.
Liverpool were fortunate with the opening goal, yet Sunderland still had a man on the far post - one of many noticeable tactical differences from earlier in the season - although Seb Larsson proved to be resting rather than alert. The understanding between Suarez and Sturridge resulted in well-worked, decisive goals for the former.
Post-match, Ball talked about the need for results rather than performances, but the latter often breeds the former. Despite being in the midst of a challenging run of games, similar effort and urgency should produce points for Sunderland.