Stoke City 0 – Liverpool 1: An Analysis

Like being mates with Jekyll and Hyde, it’s tricky to know which Liverpool you’re going to meet when you go the match nowadays. Will it be the breath-taking, all-singing, all-goal scoring team we saw against Manchester City and Southampton? Or will it be the team that surrendered so meekly to Newcastle, Watford and West Ham?

Togetherness

Togetherness

Last night felt a little bit like a cross between the two. The Reds never looked like banging a mass of goals past Stoke, but they also didn’t appear to be as defensively vulnerable as they have in the past. Reports suggesting that Jurgen Klopp had some stern words to say to his players after the loss to the Hammers certainly have some truth to them if the response from the players here was anything to go by.

But what of the match itself? What titbits can we take from a game that contained one goal, three hamstrings and a whole lot of fight? With Exeter on the horizon will the manager finally consider wholesale rotation, or will he think that it’s more important to keep the spine of the side intact?

Hamstrung

Liverpool started the match with a fair degree of fight, taking the game straight to Stoke and putting them under pressure immediately. It was the sort of thing we’ve been wanting to see in most recent games but have instead witnessed a damp squib of an opening, often resulting in us conceding a goal.

Then Philippe Coutinho’s hamstring went.

Then Dejan Lovren’s hamstring went.

I’m fairly certain I felt my hamstring tweak midway through the half-time break when I went to take the dog for a walk. With Origi, Sturridge and Rossiter also out with the same injury it’s fair to say that Liverpool have been hamstrung by hamstring injuries.

The reality is that a new manager coming in and asking the players to change their routine was always likely to endure some injury issues. Added to that the fact that Klopp felt the Liverpool players were unfit and needed to work harder and injuries were inevitable. On top of that there’s also the idea that the German wants his players playing ‘full throttle’ football’, running more than the other teams and putting their bodies through hell.

In other words, the mere arrival of the former Borussia Dortmund manager was going to put a strain on Liverpool’s players and likely invite injuries. So to combine that with the hectic festive schedule, in which 3 days rest rather than 2 has seemed like dreamland, and Liverpool were always going to find themselves in trouble on the injury front.

The question is, could things have been done differently? Joseph Pepper on Twitter is a firm advocate of the idea that Liverpool should, essentially, ‘throw’ the cup matches we’re involved in in order to concentrate on the league. Maybe that’s exactly what, logically, we should be doing. I certainly want the league title above all else and this year of all years it has felt like it’s there for the taking.

But it’s not difficult to imagine that the very notion of playing a weaker team in the cup competitions goes against Klopp’s every instinct. He’s a winner and he wants to be competitive in every match we play in. It’s totally fair to suggest that winning the League Cup, should we do it, won’t help us do anything in the future in the same way it didn’t exactly project other teams that won it onto greater heights.

Yet Klopp will surely want to see his team lift the League Cup trophy in February and it will doubtless help him to relax into his job knowing that he’s won some silverware at the first time of asking. How much easier is it to ask players to buy into your ideas if you’ve already won a trophy? Wouldn’t Rodgers have been given a touch more slack if he’d picked up the League Cup in season 1?

Perhaps the injuries are something of a blessing in disguise for those that want to follow Mr. Pepper’s route towards a concentration on the league. Even if Klopp had hoped to play a reasonably strong team against Exeter on Friday night he pretty much can’t now. Maybe Kolo Toure’s injury was cramp rather than a hamstring injury as the manager suggested. But that still leaves us with just one fit centre back.

Cups aren’t as important as the league to Liverpool and at some point one of the powers that be needs to let Klopp know that that’s his priority. Until that happens we’re likely to suffer from never ending injury crises that, even if they don’t effect the match they happen in, could completely de-rail our season.

Emre Can, Allen Key

Some time ago I wrote a piece with pretty much that exactly headline in it, except for the fact that it said ‘Emre Can’t’. I’m repeating it here for two reasons, not least of which is that I love the pun. Not only that, but it’s also worth noting that both players were exceptional for the Reds yesterday.

Emre Can is not yet a world class midfielder. He’s not even a consistent midfielder for Liverpool within the same game, let alone from week to week. What he does have, though, is bags of potential. He could, under the leadership of a manager like Klopp, develop into a truly top drawer midfield player. He has bags of potential that will almost certainly be fulfilled as long as he keeps going on the same trajectory as he’s currently managing.

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

As for Joe Allen, I’d like to briefly ask you to travel back to the days of Rafa Benitez’s management of Liverpool. Despite the revisionism that has taken place since the Spaniard’s departure and the subsequent travails that the club has been through, Rafa was taking enormous criticism from our own fans even when we were top of the league in 2008-2009.

Some fans, though, felt that they couldn’t overtly attack Benitez so instead they harangued a player that they felt personified Benitez’s perceived conservatism on the pitch, one Lucas Leiva. He was the ‘only Brazilian who can’t score goals’, often getting pelted with abuse from the stands when things didn’t work perfectly for the Reds.

Fast forward to the days when Brendan Rodgers sat in the Liverpool dugout and the same sort of vitriol often poured down from the stands towards the Northern Irishman as Rafa had had to put up with. With the Spaniard gone, though, and Lucas having become one of those players that we didn’t realise how much we needed until we lost him to injury, there’s another fall guy on the pitch.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

Joe Allen has rarely performed anything less than perfectly solidly when he’s played for Liverpool. There can be little question that the man that brought him in from Swansea chopped his legs off with the sections of the Anfield crowd who felt that Rodgers was too much like David Brent when he called the diminutive midfielder “the Welsh Xavi”.

There is little doubt in my mind, however, that Allen would receive a lot more respect and praise for the performances he’s given in a Red shirt if he was Spanish and had been bought by a different manager. His association with Rodgers, combined with the fact that he was the Ulsterman’s representative on the pitch, means that some people will never view his performances with anything other than contempt.

The problem for Allen is that he is never anything other than perfectly solid. He doesn’t set the world alight, creating countless opportunities or scoring a myriad of goals. He acts as the team’s metronome, keeping things ticking over and helping to find space and allow room for others. Such a player will never get you on the edge of your set, though, will never engage you to the point where you think he deserves the Man Of The Match award.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Many Liverpool fans would have happily seen the back of Lucas if given the chance during Rafa’s reign, yet for a time he was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world on form and proved himself to be almost irreplaceable. Even now he is prone to a dodgy moment or two but is unquestionably a good squad player to have around. The comparisons between Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen are there for all who might want to see them. The problem is that too many people can’t view Allen’s performances without the attached baggage of their own issues with Brendan Rodgers.

Although Emre Can was signed during Rodgers’ era his Germanic origins combined with his youth mean that he will be given plenty of time by the Anfield faithful. He will never be bracketed and criticised in the same way that Allen is because of his association with any given manager.

What’s most interesting about Liverpool’s match against Stoke was that the midfield worked as an excellent unit, with Lucas, Allen and Can complimenting each other in an interesting way. Allen in particular was genuinely fantastic, controlling the match and running the game for the Reds. If Liverpool’s fans can get past the link between him and our now departed manager he could yet prove to be one of Jurgen Klopp’s key characters in the coming months.

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