Stoke City 0 – Liverpool 3: Match Review & Analysis

This season is arguably the definition of a curate’s egg thus far. It is quite evidently a bit of a disappointment from the point of view of the supporters, but to what extent is that because of the outrageous form of Manchester City? Liverpool fans are bored are waiting for a title and each season that passes without us winning one leads to more and frustration. That we found ourselves fourteen points behind Pep Guardiola’s side before kick-off means that the title is a distant dream yet again. Disappointing draws with the likes of Newcastle United and Watford combined with heavy losses to Spurs and City have added to the notion that this isn’t a great campaign thus far.

The only problem is that the stats don’t actually fit that narrative. Before kick-off we were three points better off than in the same fixtures last season. We’ve scored eight more goals during that period and conceded six fewer. Some supporters seem to be confusing Manchester City’s phenomenal form, with the Sky Blues dropping just two points all season, with Liverpool not being good enough. They also seem to be forgetting that we’ve had one of the toughest starts to the season thanks to away games against the league leaders & Spurs plus matches versus Arsenal, United and Chelsea at Anfield. Simply put, our season is nowhere near as bad as the narrative may have you believe.

Klopp’s Gambles Have Sort Of Paid Off

Whether you think Jürgen Klopp was right to go with such a strong team against Sevilla will dictate whether or not you think he’s got his starting line-ups right since then. If you feel that the German made the right decision in going as strong as he did out in Spain then you also have to accept that he needed to make changes for the match against Chelsea. Despite what footballing dinosaurs like Paul Merson and John Aldridge might say, players need to be rested if you want to help them avoid injury and have them available to you for the duration of the season. Chelsea have the ability to beat you even if you put your strongest team on the pitch but they’ll definitely give you a run for your money if you play tired players against them.

I don’t think Klopp should have gone as strong as he did in Spain, but once he’d made the choice he had to follow it through in the games that followed. Part of the gamble was knowing that a point against Chelsea will be a decent result depending on how we cope in our next few matches and the manager will feel that his decision was vindicated after tonight. Where we finish in relation to Manchester City won’t tell us anything given the ludicrousness of their form, but where we end up in comparison to the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs will tell us a lot. Our win at Stoke puts us six behind our fiercest rivals, three behind Chelsea and two behind the Gunners. United’s next too matches are against Arsenal and City, so where will be after them?That will tell is plenty about where we truly are this season.

We Love Suicidal Football

There’s no way that Stoke City’s approach to this match could have been a surprise to Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff. Yes, Mark Hughes has dabbled with a back five in recent times and he no longer has the team of groks that he’s boasted in the past, but he always opts for the same long-ball tactics when he comes up against us. That’s probably because he thinks our defence can be targeted, but we don’t do much to help ourselves. Rather than keeping the ball on the floor and trying to play football, we spent about half an hour stretched across both halves hoofing the ball up the pitch and giving away moronic free-kicks. Stoke didn’t score, but it wasn’t through a lack of us trying to give them as many opportunities as we could.

Captain Dimwit in goal was perhaps fortunate to get away with just a yellow card when he smashed the legs of Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf away five minutes from the end of the first-half. Worse than the awful tackle, though, was the fact that a team that depends on high-balls and set-pieces had one right outside our area. It was something we carried on doing throughout the game and if Joe Allen was a better finisher then this match might well have had a different outcome. We also seemed to be desperate to play loose balls to nobody in particular time and again and if we’d been up against a better side we might have paid the price. Perhaps that was just down to the rustiness of some of the players coming into the starting line-up, with a week off seeming to do both Emre Can and Roberto Firmino no favours whatsoever. Hopefully when they next make the starting line-up they’ll be a little bit more up-to-speed.

Mohamed Salah Is A Revelation

Jamie Vardy isn’t all that brilliant a striker. If he was then he’d have been bought by a better club than Leicester City by now. Still, during the Foxes’s title run he was inspirational in helping them to win countless matches, thanks in no small part to his record breaking eleven consecutive games scoring streak. Was that just because he was in a rich vein of form? Is the same true now of Mohamed Salah? It’s certainly fair to point out that he was nowhere near this clinical at Chelsea, though he was young then. He also wasn’t quite as good at Roma last season either, so why is it that he’s suddenly decided he can score at will? In a league with such leading lights as Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane, it’s remarkable that he is the current top-goalscorer in the Premier League.

I have a suspicion that part of Salah’s remarkable run is down to the way we play football. Our defensive deficiencies are well documented, but when it comes to the side’s attacking play the manager has us set-up in such a way that works to our best players’s advantage. The interchanging front three keeps defenders constantly guessing about where any individual player is going to be, with Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino working hard enough off the ball tonight to wear the Stoke back four out. It was brilliant management by Klopp to chuck Salah on once they were all knackered, given his pace could out-run roadrunner. His finish for the first was instinctive, whilst he could easily have missed the second as Mané did in a similar situation in the first-half. Some Liverpool supporters yearn for an ‘out-and-out striker’ on the rare occasions we fail to score, but the reality is we’ve got a player in Salah who gets the goals but also contributes so much more to the team overall.

We Were Still Wasteful

It’s perhaps a little bit naughty to complain about wastefulness when we’ve just defied the cliché and performed successfully on a cold Wednesday night in Stoke. Yet against both Sevilla a week ago the Reds were punished for their profligacy. That could have happened again tonight, with Dominic Solanke and Sadio Mané both missing glaring opportunities to give us more goals. Solanke’s decision to go on his own was perhaps understandable considering he was enjoying his first Premier League start since joining the club in the summer and obviously has immense faith in his belief. Even so, if he’d squared the ball to Roberto Firmino when the both broke though we could have gone two-nil up in the first-half and killed Stoke’s resistance earlier. Mané had a chance to do the same thing when he struck the post with his one-on-one.

In Spain we should have won comfortably, even once the hosts had pinned us back to 3-2. Instead we missed a couple of big chances and we all know what happened next. This Liverpool attack is absolutely sensational when it wants to be, but if we’re going to regularly win matches then I think we need to be significantly more clinical in the final-third. I’d like this to be something we start working on now, whilst we’re playing well and in a good run of form, rather than once we’ve dropped points and that starts getting into the heads of the players. It’s a lot easier to score goals when you’ve already got on the scoresheet after all. I hope the manager is drilling it into his team that he wants us to win a match by six, seven or eight goals at some point this season. If not, we might live to regret it when we want to do that the least.

Is Sturridge Done?

It’s a question I’ve asked several times this season, but is Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career over? The manager’s refusal to pick him in the big Champions League game out in Spain was perhaps something of a declaration that he doesn’t trust him to perform when it matters, with the forward’s performance against Chelsea on Saturday merely reinforcing the idea that he’s not the player he once was. If the striker was under any illusion about where he sits in the pecking order then perhaps Jürgen Klopp’s decision to play Solanke tonight will have clarified things for him.

I’m a Daniel Sturridge fan. Unlike some, I’ve never bought into the shout that he’s ‘lazy’. But I do think that injuries have had too much of an impact on his career now for him to be considered as a regular starter for us. I think it will be best for both the player and the club if he moves on in January, with Solanke proving tonight that he can offer the workrate that our number fifteen simply doesn’t have the legs for any more. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll still have a huge part to play for us over the Christmas period, but somehow I just don’t see it happening. Like James Milner, he’s mentally quick but his body just isn’t quick enough to play in a side that is at its most devastating when it’s going at full-pace.

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