SUNDERLAND, December 31 – Liverpool obeyed the pragmatic instructions of manager Jurgen Klopp in a 1-0 win at Sunderland where quality football was at a premium and there was an element of good fortune in a decisive goal scored by Christian Benteke.
As Liverpool ended the first half of the Premier League season, the result was all that mattered to Klopp, who ordered his team to go toe-to-toe with a Sunderland team fighting to avoid relegation.
“The manager has tried to drum into us that sometimes we’ve got to be dirtier, fight a bit more and play teams at their own game,” said Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana, who admitted there was luck involved in the goal.
Lallana diverted Nathaniel Clyne’s pass towards Benteke after only 22 seconds of the second-half and the Belgian striker scored for the second successive match.
“I don’t think I meant the flick to go directly into Christian’s path but sometimes you need the rub of the green, especially at tough places like this,” Lallana said.
Liverpool should have scored more in a game when Sunderland lacked an attacking edge, yet Klopp was still satisfied with a victory that lifted them into seventh place in the Premier League, five points from a Champions League place.
He has seen his side draw level with Manchester United, but believe Liverpool still have a crucial psychological advantage.
He said: “Both of us are on 30 points and at this moment Liverpool don’t feel too bad, but at Manchester United the atmosphere is not the best.
“You can see how football is sometimes. We wanted 30 points and we got them – perfect. This is not the best we can do, we know this, but we had to fight. We knew about Sunderland’s situation.”
– ‘More to come’ -Benteke, who scored the winner against Leicester on Boxing Day, has made a timely return to form and Klopp insists there is more to come.
“I’m sure that he can play better,” said the Liverpool manager. “But at this moment he needs goals more than anything else.”
Sunderland, who are poised to sign the Lorient defender Lamine Kone, need goals from absolutely any source after a fifth straight defeat that left them seven points from safety ahead of Saturday’s crucial game against the only team below them, Aston Villa.
Manager Sam Allardyce said: “It was some encouragement to see the lads battling and fighting for themselves and trying to get a win or at least a point but a bit of misfortune just after half-time took it away from us.
“We need to try and strengthen the squad. That work has already started but it is very, very difficult. Hopefully we will be successful sooner rather than later in January.”
Klopp was angry that Sunderland’s Jeremain Lens did not receive a red card for a foul on Mamadou Sakho and became involved in an argument with Allardyce and his staff on the touchline.
“He’s a soft German if that’s a red card,” Allardyce said.
“There was some foul and abusive language towards my staff, which I didn’t like. But at the end we all shook hands and that’s how it should be.”