Match Review: Liverpool 4-1 Stoke

Dismal defending results in Anfield anguish

Stoke City lost 4-1 this afternoon to fellow Europa League chasers Liverpool and makes that prospect look very bleak for the Potters with Stoke being overtaken by Liverpool in the table, leaving them ninth. Liverpool didn’t need to get out of second gear to comprehensively see off Stoke with the possibility of a reverse 6-1 thrashing well on the cards. A headed goal from Bojan midway through the first half cancelled out Alberto Moreno’s long range effort, but a Daniel Sturridge header followed up by two goals from Divok Origi was enough to take advantage of a Stoke defense that was less than convincing throughout the 90 minutes.

Stoke started the game with Peter Crouch up front ahead of Joselu, a surprise to many after encouragement from Mark Bowen in the week for the Spaniard to carry his momentum into the final games of the season. Xherdan Shaqiri and Ryan Shawcross came in for the injured duo of Glenn Whelan and Marko Arnautovic, with Geoff Cameron moving from centre-back into defensive midfield.

The beginning of the game showed signs of promise of Stoke in attack: Shaqiri looked to have Moreno’s number and tried to pick his way through the Liverpool defense. However, Bardsley gave away a seemingly needless free kick on Stoke’s right hand side which Liverpool took quickly, taking the majority of the Stoke players off guard. Alberto Moreno picked up the ball and sent a strike towards the Stoke goal and, despite none of his defenders helping out by not reacting to the play, deputy goalkeeper Haugaard saw the shot fly past his left hand side and crash into the net. Many thought that the big Dane could, and possibly should, have prevented Liverpool going into the lead in the 8th minute.

Stoke continued to try and find their opener with Shaqiri continuing to be the main source of problems for the Liverpool backline. It was his delicious free kick in the 22nd minute that got in behind the Liverpool defence, found the head of Bojan and squeezed past Mignolet to level the match, at the time deservedly so. It was Stoke who had the ball in the back of the net again minutes later when a quick Stoke move ended with Erik Pieters whipping in a ball into Peter Crouch, who saw his resulting header go in off the post. Unfortunately for Stoke, Crouch was offside. Crouch almost found the net again minutes later, yet once again he was offside to save his blushes.

Liverpool then took the lead again in the 32nd minute: Ojo breezed past Shaqiri, who was covering Bardsley on their right side of defence, sent a furious cross past Haugaard, towards Sturridge who found the net inside the 6 yards box with a thumping header for 2-1. Again there were questions of whether Haugaard could have dealt better with the cross, but with such a good ball being sent in from Ojo the questions should be pointed to whether the cross should have come in at all.

A couple of chances, including a Ryan Shawcross header which was inches away from finding the bottom corner at the far post, wasn’t enough to prevent Stoke heading to the dressing rooms behind. But there was optimism that the game wasn’t quite over yet if Stoke could keep Liverpool out. However, they did not: a short corner from Liverpool in the 50th minute caught Stoke off guard again. A floating cross hung right in front of Origi who took the game out of sight with another close range header. Cases could definitely be made about Haugaard coming to claim the cross to prevent the shot on goal, but a sleeping Stoke defence once again didn’t cover Origi who was completely unmarked when scoring his first goal.

Origi condemned the game to bed in the 65th minute. He ran at Phil Bardsley down the entire of the far touchline, who did nothing more than back off the oncoming in-form Liverpool forward, and sent in a cross after cutting back onto his right foot. The ball escaped everybody, including a yet again stranded Haugaard and ended up in the back of the net for a fourth Liverpool goal. Confused and frustrated looks resonated throughout the Stoke defence and left Hughes not being able to look at the team he had fielded.

The game then mercifully dragged out into a dull final 25 minutes, with Liverpool creating the odd chance but to no avail. Shaqiri nearly caught Mignolet off his line late in the game and nearly grabbed a consolation goal, only for his long range shot glance the far post on its way out for a goal kick. Hughes made two substitutions with goalscorer Bojan and livewire and assist-maker Shaqiri making way for forwards Diouf and Crouch in a last ditch attempt to salvage some dignity, but the heights of Stoke’s poor second half performance didn’t increase. Erik Pieters caused a last minute drama sketch by complaining to the Stoke bench about something he was clearly disgruntled with, only for him to be substituted moments later for Muniesa. No looks were shared between Pieters and his manager as the former took his seat for the final minutes, which also produced no action.

Stoke will be disappointed by their defensive game plan as a whole and will bemoan giving such simple, preventable goals away. Liverpool weren’t fantastic in attack but managed time and time again to exploit weaknesses in a pedestrian Stoke team, it could have been the reverse of the final game of last season if it wasn’t for perhaps the hosts’ Europa League adventure in the back of the players’ and coach’s’ mind. Stoke showed good signs in attack in the first half but replied poorly in the second and were deservedly beaten.

Hughes will want to consider changing his gameplan and his starting XI for the match against Spurs next Monday after a couple of disappointing individual performances and a lacklustre attempt to defend 8th spot in the Premier League. Regardless, Hughes must concede that his game plan today didn’t work and knows that it will be difficult now to better last season’s league position with some difficult final fixtures coming up.
Questions may begin now of Stoke’s plans for this season, whether to secure what they have, whether to push for higher, whether to play full strength teams and aim for some consistency or include some of the youth players which have performed well in their competitions this season. What fans do know is, this game must be written off and learned from if we want a strong finish to the season and something to get excited about through Summer. Your turn, Sparky…

Written by Ben Rowley

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