Match Review: Liverpool 4-1 Stoke
Stoke slipped back into their old habit of conceding four as they threw away the lead against an, in the end, dominant Liverpool side. Jon Walters did open the scoring very early on, but it gave Liverpool plenty of time to recover and they did so thanks to goals from Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, an own goal from Giannelli Imbula and Daniel Sturridge. It was a match that was riddled with individual mistakes and lapses in concentration, however you couldn’t help feeling that Stoke’s efforts were lacking in the second half. It leaves Stoke 13th in the table and sends the Reds second.
Mark Hughes decided to leave out some of his biggest names from the Starting XI following the agonising draw to Leicester ten days prior. Despite scoring a penalty in his last game, Bojan was dropped to the bench in place of Peter Crouch in the only change. However, sitting next to the Spaniard were the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Wilfried Bony, Ramadan Sobhi and Ibrahim Afellay. It was the latter’s first appearance in the Stoke squad since his huge training ground injury almost a year ago. Marko Arnautovic sat his second of a three match ban.
Liverpool did start brightly, with Jordan Henderson and Firmino both having chances early on. But it was Stoke who dashed down the other end and took the lead: Erik Pieters nicked the ball from the careless opposition, sprinted down the left wing and whipped in a delightful ball into Jon Walters, who reciprocated with a bullet header that Mignolet couldn’t keep out. It was scored right in front of the roaring Stoke faithful who, for this period at least, dreamed of Stoke first win at Anfield in the Premier League.
Stoke weren’t finished, a long ball upfield finally bounced to the feet of Joe Allen, who jinked away from his defenders and slapped the ball towards goal and it required a great save from Mignolet to deny Stoke an early two goal lead. Peter Crouch couldn’t quite collect the rebound for a tap in into an open goal, but Erik Pieters did and had a go at goal himself with the goalkeeper yet to recover, but his weak effort was blocked on the line by Ragnar Klavan. It was a colossal chance that had gone begging, one that Stoke would live to regret.
It was time for Liverpool to assert some dominance and search for an equaliser. Dejan Lovren sent in a low cross, which Shawcross cleared poorly and it fell to Firmino inside the penalty area, his shot had Grant beaten but it was cleared off the line by Crouch. A huge scare for Stoke, but it was a sign of things to come. Minutes later, Divock Origi beautifully switched the play to Mane, who had all sorts of room to pick out Lallana; he made his way to the byline at pace and could only chance his luck at the near post. Unfortunately for Stoke, Lee Grant didn’t have it covered at the home side had their equaliser. It’s one of very few mistakes that Grant has made in a Stoke shirt since his arrival this Summer, but it did sacrifice his team’s opening efforts.
Lifted by the goal, the Reds were after another: Firmino was given time to send a long-ranger at goal, Grant was required to dive low to his right to keep the goal out. However there was time for another Liverpool goal just before half time: Firmino once again had far too much room in the box and was invited to shoot, his shot beat Grant but hit the inside of the far post, which then rolled all the way along the goal line and hit the other post and trickled pathetically over the line, which Stoke players could only watch. Once again the lack of pressure told and it’s never wise to give this kind of room to such a lethal Liverpool side.
The momentum was with Liverpool going into the second half, but Hughes kept faith in his starters and sent the same team out of the tunnel in search of redemption. Liverpool kept going though: James Milner left Glen Johnson for dead and fizzled a shot-cum-cross right across the goal and Bruno Martins Indi’s body was required to steer Lallana’s shot away to safety. Liverpool eventually got their third though: Johnson once again caught napping which allowed Origi the space to send in the killer ball across the six yards box, knowing any touch would send the ball goalbound; it found the touch, courtesy of Imbula who was desperately trying to nick the ball away from the lurking Liverpool bodies but ended up doing their job for them.
The Potters then saw fit to seal the deal and concede a fourth: Ryan Shawcross didn’t even bother to look where his back pass towards Lee Grant was going and substitute Sturridge was there to swiftly intercept; he then rounded the helpless Stoke ‘keeper smartly and stroked the ball into the empty net. It was amazing how elation had turned into despair all in the space of a gruelling hour for Stoke fans to witness. Perhaps the only positive from the game came in the form of a late appearance from Ibi Afellay, who didn’t look an inch out of place after coming on when the game had long, long gone.
It’s amazing how the pressure can fall back onto a manager’s shoulders with a couple of poor performances against last year’s Champions and a team who have averaged over two goals per game in 2016. But Mark Hughes needs to respond to his critics after throwing away leading positions, not for the first time this season. The goals that his side conceded were poor to say the least and perhaps it could be argued that there is nothing that he can do about individual mistakes; but by leaving massive talents on the bench, not utilising them until the game was out of reach and clearly not being able to kill off opponents he has some thinking to do going into the last game of 2016. This game is against leaders Stamford Bridge in their own backyard and, although any positive result is unlikely against a side that have won their last twelve games, it’s a great opportunity to springboard morale back high once again. With the game just half a week away, you would expect Hughes to make changes to his side; but the question is does the manager trust all of the members of his squad with such a heavy run of fixtures coming up. If certain faces don’t make an appearance over the next couple of weeks, the looming January transfer window could be an interesting one.
So we conceded four again. It’s not quite six though, is it eh?
Lee Grant: 5 – made a couple of decent saves but conceded too many.
Glen Johnson: 4 – by far his worst game for Stoke.
Ryan Shawcross: 5 – clearly at fault for the last goal.
Bruno Martins Indi: 5 – a couple of good blocks but allowed too much space.
Mame Diouf: 5 – rash in the tackle and non existent going forward.
Glenn Whelan: 5 – was pulled for Sobhi with nearly half an hour to go.
Giannelli Imbula: 5 – decent possession but did score the OG.
Erik Pieters: 5 – excellent cross for the goal but often missing at LB.
Joe Allen: 6 – good possession (great nutmeg) and workrate, but should have scored.
Peter Crouch: 5 – some fancy flicks but didn’t offer much, really.
Jon Walters: 7 – great goal, excellent pressurising, caused a lot of trouble.
Ramadan Sobhi (25 mins) – would be harsh to rate once game had gone.
Ibrahim Afellay (15 mins) – wonderful to see his return after a long injury.
Wilfried Bony (5 mins) – not enough time for impact.
Written by Ben Rowley
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