Liverpool vs. Hull City: 6 Things We Learned
Getting back to winning ways was imperative for Liverpool against Hull City following the recent defeats at Manchester City and Chelsea. Whilst the Reds didn't sparkle in the manner that they have recently at Anfield, they delivered a 2-0 win to jump above Everton and into fourth place in the Premier League table.
The opening half-hour wasn't the most exciting spectacle that a New Year's Day crowd will ever have witnessed at Anfield, but the Reds kept plugging away and were rewarded for their patience when skipper Daniel Agger headed home Philippe Coutinho's corner.
The Brazilian and Raheem Sterling both missed chances that would have increased Liverpool's lead, before a trademark Luis Suarez free-kick doubled the advantage five minutes into the second period.
Hull improved somewhat after that, but the game was long since won, with Brendan Rodgers able to introduce Steven Gerrard for half an hour. The skipper made his first appearance since a hamstring injury sustained against West Ham last month.
Gerrard, his manager and his teammates can reflect on a low-key job well done in their first game of 2014. Here are six lessons learned from Anfield:
Luis Suarez's Free-Kicks Alone Could Be Worth £40million
With every passing game at Anfield, the notion that Luis Suarez could have been sold for as little as £40million in the summer seems more and more absurd.
By comparison, his one strike here was a little tame compared to hauls of three, two, four, two and two goals in the last five home matches, but what a goal it was.
Suarez's stunning free-kick was just the latest in the long line of special goals he's scored for the Reds, and he has surely cemented his place as the best set-piece specialist in the Premier League and one of the best in the world.
Players have earned multi-million-pound moves off the back of similar skills before, and so the question must be asked:
Just how much are Suarez's free-kicks worth on their own?
Steven Gerrard's Return Has Come at Just the Right Time
Liverpool struggled to find the usual cohesion they've displayed in recent home matches during much of the first half, and that can perhaps be put down to Jordan Henderson's more withdrawn role in the team following the injury to Joe Allen at Chelsea.
The Reds were missing Henderson's usual energy and effort in bursting around the pitch to simultaneously put out fires and start new ones, and so the introduction of the fit-again Steven Gerrard here was crucial.
The midfielder's comeback after four games out has come at just the right time for Liverpool ahead of a hugely important month. And with him playing alongside Lucas in the centre, Henderson will be allowed to bomb forward in the manner he does so well.
Iago Aspas Misses His Chance to Impress
Given a first Premier League start since he was hauled off at half-time in the 1-0 defeat at Southampton in September, Iago Aspas was given a chance from the start here following a series of ineffective substitute appearances in recent weeks.
Sadly for the Spaniard, he was again poor here, with the pace of the English game seemingly too quick for a player who shined in Spain with Celta Vigo.
Injury and the blossoming Suarez-Daniel Sturridge partnership have made this a difficult first season on Merseyside for the forward, but he has failed to take several opportunities to impress, with a frustrating inability to keep hold of possession frequently apparent.
Admittedly, he could have been helped out by his teammates a couple of times when taking up good positions. He also could have registered an assist when his fine layoff for Jordan Henderson was fired wide when the Englishman should have done better, but this won't be a game that Aspas remembers fondly.
Tigers Lacking Bite, Except When It Comes to Suarez
Of course, you have to take the opposition and the setting into consideration, but so much that has been good about Hull City's game recently was missing here.
Steve Bruce's Tigers were a shadow of the team that hammered Fulham 6-0 on Saturday—and indeed the one that impressively beat the Reds 3-1 at the KC Stadium a month ago—with the only bite and aggression evident in the game coming with their rough treatment of Suarez in the first half.
Had some of that intent been saved for their overall game and not the legs of a frustrated Uruguayan much earlier, then the visitors could have made more of an impression on the game far sooner than they actually did.
There was a late attempt at a rally in the second half, but by then Hull were 2-0 down and the game was pretty much gone.
Daniel Agger Leads by Example
Steven Gerrard was lurking on the bench and made an entrance for the final half-hour, so Daniel Agger's time as the Liverpool captain was always going to be limited. He certainly made it count, though.
Starting a game at centre-back for only the second time in the last eight Premier League matches, Agger made the most of Mamadou Sakho's injury, as he delivered a composed and calm display which was, of course, capped by the crucial goal which gave the Reds the lead on 36 minutes.
The timing of his header from Philippe Coutinho's corner was key, and not just in the way that he leapt to meet the ball above the visiting defence.
The fact that the goal came nine minutes before half-time was crucial, too, as a nervy second half was avoided thanks to a player who remains one of the most respected in the squad, and one who should now stay in the starting XI.
Philippe Coutinho Needs to Develop a Ruthless Streak
It is very difficult to criticise Philippe Coutinho given the wondrous touches and excellent technical ability that he is capable of producing, but the Brazilian could certainly do with developing a ruthless streak.
He should have scored in the first half when he fired wide after being found by Jordan Henderson, whilst his wonderful late run only produced a shot straight at Allan McGregor.
There is little doubt that Coutinho possesses the ability to be considered one of the best players in the Premier League, but to do that he needs to develop his goalscoring and his end product in a way that rivals the likes of Eden Hazard and his compatriot Oscar at Chelsea.