Liverpool continued their search for Champions League football next season with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium Of Light in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Merseyside club started brightly and Lazar Markovic should have won a penalty early on when clattered by Wes Brown, though referee Craig Pawson waved play on.
Pawson made up for his poor decision just minutes later, however, allowing advantage to be played when Fabio Borini was fouled on the edge of the Black Cats' area and Markovic was there to poke his shot through the legs of Costel Pantillimon.
There were several things learned from the Reds' performance who are unbeaten in their last five Premier League games.
The Penny Has Dropped For Lazar Markovic
A waste of money was many people's opinion on Lazar Markovic early on during this campaign.
The Serbian international arrived at Anfield in the summer with a £20 million price-tag stitched to him after joining from Benfica and given how much the club paid, there was no wonder why fans wanted an instant impact.
Early performances were poor from the youngster, who showed zero signs that he was going to come good on Merseyside and gave the ball more often than not. After bright performances against FC Basel, Arsenal and Bournemouth, this was by far the 20-year-old's best game for Liverpool.
He started brightly from the first whistle and kept up that work-rate until the 90 minutes were up. His pace allowed him to latch on to Philippe Coutinho's inch-perfect through ball and was destined to score if he wasn't brought down by Wes Brown - a blatant penalty not given.
Markovic made amends for the poor decision by starting and finishing the move to score his first top flight goal. He picked the ball up on the half way line, drove at the Sunderland defence, passing the ball and breaking into the home side's box. The youngster gambled on the ball coming back to him, getting into a position that allowed him to really penetrate the back-four and it came off.
Further runs from him caused havoc for Gus Puyet's side and his acrobatic half-volley that crashed against the cross-bar would have been a contender for goal of the season if it had have been just a few inches lower.
From being dubbed as one of the worst buys in Liverpool history, Kopites now want more and more of Markovic now he's showing his promise and he could be a key player if the Reds are .
Emre Can Has A Big Future
Markovic is a player who cost Liverpool a small fortune and there are several other players with a similar profile.
Emre Can was £10million from Bayer Leverkusen and although he was injured early in his Anfield career, he's really starting to come to terms with English football.
The beauty that Brendan Rodgers has with Emre Can in his squad is his versatility. The German is capable of playing in numerous positions and did so in the North-East on Saturday afternoon.
Can started out at centre-back, a position he's commanded for the past few weeks with plenty of sturdiness, and easily cut out any danger that came his way. Not only did he shine defensively when playing at the back, but hit a number of excellent passes, including finding Markovic in the lead up for his strike.
When Steven Gerrard was forced off with injury in the second period, Can took over his role in the midfield and looked as comfortable as playing in the defence. He bullied the Sunderland midfield off the ball and showed excellent pace that saw Liam Bridcutt receive a second yellow card.
He too is still only 20 years old and has a massive future ahead on Merseyside. He can play anywhere, which is an advantage on a personnel note and for Rodgers who can fit Can in whatever system he wants to play.
Steven Gerrard Is Once Again Excelling
I'm not afraid to admit that Steven Gerrard was having a negative effect on the Liverpool team a few weeks back.
He was playing just in front of the back four and games were passing him by - he could not break down play and his passing was limited, given how deep the Reds skipper was. Now that we know contract negotiations were not running smoothly, his disappointing displays could very well link with the off-field problems.
However, against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup and now against Sunderland, Gerrard has played in the 'number ten' role just behind the striker and has flourished.
"With just months left at Anfield, it's clear that the Liverpool legend is going to go through thick and thin, put his body on the line and give 150 per-cent to end his career at his boyhood club the highest note possible"
He may have lost some of his pace, but the ex-England captain's experience is second to none as well as his awareness. Gerrard's ability to expose space near goal is excellent, as highlighted for his first goal against the Dons on Monday and in the build up for Markovic's strike.
The 34-year-old made a diagonal run to receive the ball from Markovic in plenty of space and knew exactly where Fabio Borini was to find him. Gerrard carried on his run into the box and was unmarked, waiting for the return ball and if wasn't for Borini being fouled, it could have well been Liverpool's top goalscorer this season adding to his tally.
He was forced off with injury at half-time and the Reds never quite looked the same. However, when the final whistle was blown and the players made there way back into the dressing room, Gerrard was there congratulating every one of them like a true leader.
With just months left at Anfield, it's clear that the Liverpool legend is going to go through thick and thin, put his body on the line and give 150 per-cent to end his career at his boyhood club the highest note possible.
A Change In The Tide
It was an impressive display from Liverpool in the howling winds of Wearside and they will now look to seriously make a run at the final Champions League spot.
Markovic was superb, likewise Coutinho and Can was also very good. It seems that Rodgers, after all the tinkering he's made, has finally found a system and a strong staple of players who will play week in, week out.
And the best thing is, is that the Reds still did not have a full squad assembled.
Adam Lallana, who really began to hit heights of form before picking up an injury on New Years Day will return in a few weeks and he will be a massive asset to the side.
Raheem Sterling has played more minutes than any Liverpool player this term despite only just turning 20 and, in fear of him getting burnt out, he was given permission to take a break to Jamaica.
One thing the Reds have lacked this season is fire-power in-front of goal. Rodgers called upon Coutinho and Jordan Henderson to score more goals this season, but they've just managed two apiece with both missing attempts in decent positions.
Borini, Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert have all been consistent this season - by no scoring goals - and share just four between them. However, Daniel Sturridge has now returned from his rehabilitation treatment in America for his thigh injury and will be raring to regain his starting place sooner rather than later.
Sterling has done well up-top of late, but he's not a natural striker and is more effective when playing slightly deeper and wider. When Liverpool's full squad is assembled and now with a system that is working, the prospect of them qualifying for the Champions League is not an unrealistic prospect.
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