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Liverpool may have signed Daniel Sturridge to ease the apparent burden on striker Luis Suarez but their leading scorer appeared not to notice or care as he hit a brace to help Brendan Rodgers’ side beat Sunderland 3-0 at Anfield.
The Uruguay international took his tally to 15 goals in 19 Barclays Premier League games matching a scoring tally last reached in a Reds shirt by Fernando Torres in 2009-10.
Raheem Sterling opened proceedings with a well-taken lob over goalkeeper Simon Mignolet as Liverpool began the new year with a home victory after recording just six in the league in the whole of 2012.
Having today's signing from Chelsea Daniel Sturridge watching from the Main Stand was probably the prompt Liverpool’s forward line needed to shine.
Stewart Downing, whose future at Anfield is far from certain despite a number of improved performances in recent weeks, forced Mignolet into a full-length save from an 11th-minute free-kick.
It was not the beginning of the type of wasteful deluge which typified Anfield performances in the previous 12 months but it served as a good starting point.
What followed, however, was finishing of the highest order from a player still learning his trade at the top level and another arguably very close to the summit.
Firstly Suarez hooked a ball forward for Sterling to race onto and, as Mignolet charged out to the edge of his penalty area, the 18-year-old coolly lobbed the goalkeeper.
James McClean should have equalised after Sunderland easily cut through the Liverpool defence but he managed to miss the target with only Jose Reina to beat and it proved costly.
From the host’s next chance Steven Gerrard’s pass released Suarez and, despite initially being bumped off the ball by Carlos Cuellar, the striker continued to surge forward before drilling a shot through the goalkeeper’s legs with the outside of his right boot.
Sunderland still had fight left in them, though, and had it not been for a brilliant close-range stop by Reina to deny Matt Kilgallon, the Black Cats would have had a foothold in the game.
Seven minutes after half-time the match was decisively decided by Suarez’s second strike of the night.
Steven Gerrard was given the freedom of the midfield by Sunderland and with no pressure on him he picked out Suarez’s darting run 60 yards away.
His team-mate needed no second invitation and in collecting the ball he moved it to his right to unsteady Mignolet and fired home Liverpool’s third.
Suarez was denied a hat-trick by the legs of the goalkeeper while substitute Joe Allen’s shot was deflected over by Danny Rose.
Victory, which completed a haul of nine points out of a possible 12 over the festive period, lifted Liverpool into eighth place, seven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
A second successive defeat for Sunderland, after two wins, means Martin O’Neill’s side are looking over the shoulders again, four points above the relegation zone.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: “You've got to give massive credit to the players. They were magnificent. Looking at the tiredness of some of the teams right now, our intensity and pressure was marvellous. We played some terrific football against a Sunderland side under Martin O'Neill that have been very difficult to beat.
"When you work with players like Luis Suarez, he is a [Lionel] Messi-type character in terms of he is angry when I give him a breather. At the start of the season I tried to rest him and he didn't want it. He is a player that to be at his top of his game has to play two or three times a week, one game is not enough. He needs to be playing and you see the response you get from him. His work has never dropped, he is a real team player, he trains every single day, is never in the treatment room and then he goes out and performs.
"As the ball moves [Suarez] gets the chance to move into spaces - if he plays in a style which is direct he doesn't get a chance to move. In a structure where the team is moving and the ball is moving his cleverness and intelligence finds the space and you can see he is thriving in the team at the moment. It will be fantastic to see him develop because I think there is a long way to go in his development.
"We are bringing in a player [Daniel Sturridge] who knows he has to perform if he wants to be at one of the biggest clubs in the world and this is probably his last chance. I have every faith that over his time here he will prove a real hit and it gives us another attacking threat at the top end of the field."
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill: “Liverpool were too strong for us and deserved to win the game. It looked as though we ran out of steam out there tonight. We started off very brightly indeed and had Liverpool on the back-foot, but once they got their goal they opened us up and exploited us. Luis Suarez is a top quality footballer and he was a handful tonight.
"Perhaps it was a case of a bridge too far, we’ve played four games in 12 days and we’ve got one of the smallest squads in the Barclays Premier League. We’ve had some big games as of late and maybe in terms of recovery we just haven’t got that ability to switch things around as we would like to.
"I think when we had a couple of chances in the first half we really had to take one of those as it would given us a foothold. We have given away two poor goals but in the end we were well-beaten and Liverpool deserved to win. The third goal just after half-time put us really on the back foot and then Liverpool were very confident after that."
|13 Jan 2013||v Man Utd (A)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|03 Feb 2013||v Man City (A)|
|11 Feb 2013||v West Brom (H)|
|17 Feb 2013||v Swansea (H)|