Jurgen Klopp has a miserable day but Borini never stopped running: The Sunderland AFC week in review
Sunderland ended their festive run of games one point behind Crystal Palace, which is of course exactly where they started it.
Yet there was plenty of talking points worth revisiting. starting with Fabio Borini, who capped his strong return from injury with a lung-busting display against Liverpool.
Didier Ndong caught the eye with his box-to-box display but it was the Italian who covered more yards than anyone in a Sunderland shirt, clocking in at 12.3km. Only five players managed more in a game this Christmas.
His willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for the team’s defence not in question, now is the time to hit a volley like that Old Trafford effort in a game that is yet to be settled.
Andre Gray, meanwhile, will be hoping everyone will be as generous as Sunderland next Christmas.
After a tough season when the Jamie Vardy comparisons all but disappeared, the Black Cats defence could not have been more obliging. Gray was clinical but his opponents handed it to him on a plate.
The problems are big enough at this club without centre-halves trying to head each other.
Liverpool was a huge step forward but this festive period was a reminder of just how fragile this defence is when the going gets tough.
Gabon were one of the big winners from the Liverpool draw, now getting hold of Didier Ndong just as he seems to find peak fitness and confidence. On home turf for the AFCON and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line, they could go deep into the tournament.
Sunderland need him back either very quickly or on a mega high. No devastating final defeat, please.
And a shoutout to Sunderland’s physios, who presumably didn’t have much time to enjoy the festive cheer.
It’s reached a point now where the nine players out would, when fit, give the current first team a decent game.
Moyes is doing well to keep his team in touch; his relegation rivals are having far more luck on this front. Burnley currently have no injuries, Leicester just the one. Even Swansea and Middlesbrough only have three.
Jurgen Klopp had a bad day in the North East, so much so that he ended up apologising for his mood on the way out. Sarcastically applauding the home support, raging at the referee, snapping at journalists, it wasn’t his finest hour.
In his defence, he was magnanimous enough to praise the intensity of Sunderland’s press and the speed of their transition, two key feautures of his own best teams.
Joining Ndong and Lamine Kone in Gabon will be Wahbi Khazri, who probably leaves wondering just what he’s done so wrong.
That volley against Chelsea was one of the high points of last season, but to not get a start in the midst of this injury crisis shows how little he must be trusted at the moment. His cameo on Monday was fuel for both his critics and defenders, giving the ball away plenty but running hard and always showing for his team-mates. He faces an uncertain future upon his return, particularly with Adnan Januzaj starting to deliver a consistent creative output.
Roberto Firmino had a tough day on Wearside, too, unable to put off field distractions behind him. He would have been quite excited at the thought of going up against Donald Love; the analysis tapes pre-match probably showing a defender struggling for form and confidence.
Yet Love stood up superbly, not afraid to keep it simple and get rid when the occasion commanded. It looked like a mismatch on paper but in the end Liverpool’s threat was all down the left flank. The boy done good.
Lastly, spare a thought for opposition goalkeepers. There’s no chance to be a hero on the spot these days, Sunderland converting their last 23 league penalties. In Defoe and Borini, they have two of the very best.