Liverpool 2-0 Stoke City
Wednesday, 2nd February 2011
A momentous and emotionally charged few days in the history of Liverpool Football Club ended on a high note with victory over Stoke City at Anfield.
Liverpool fans have become well accustomed to off-field drama in recent times. However, after the disappointment, anger, excitement and upheaval of recent days, it was just nice to get back to watching some action on the pitch for a change.
Few, if anyone, would have predicted after the previous weeks home victory over Fulham, that Andy Carroll would have replaced Fernando Torres in the number 9 shirt at Anfield. With Luis Suarez also added to the squad and in excess of £110 million pounds exchanging hands in the process.
Carroll – the man on whose shoulders the bulk of the goal scoring burden left behind by Torres’s acrimonious exit will rest – was introduced to the Anfield crowd pre-kick-off. However, it was his fellow new arrival who turned out to be the hero of the evening.
The energetic and skilful Uruguayan’s 25 minute cameo bared the fruit of the second and ultimately decisive goal on 79 minutes. Nobody would have anticipated that the loss of Torres would have been greeted by such a feel-good factor and buzz around the club. But the impact of Suarez – with the injured Carroll still to come – reinforced the impression that Liverpool are in a sense refreshed, revitalised and a club moving in the right direction.
The sale of the former number 9 may just prove to be a significant catalyst in what will hopefully be a new era at Anfield. It is a loss which has evoked much disappointment and resentment amongst Liverpool fans. But the addition of two young, exciting forwards; who possess bags of potential, are sure to score goals for the club and, most importantly, want to be here. And for what was ultimately a net profit (once wages are taken into account), can only be viewed as positive business for the Reds.
Having not yet trained properly with his new team mates since arriving at the weekend due to international clearance, Suarez was only named amongst the substitutes. Instead, Dirk Kuyt was asked to fill the void left by Torres – leading the Reds attack.
For all of the money invested into the playing squad on transfer deadline day, Liverpool remain short in a few areas. The in no doubt that Charlie Adam – so nearly a Liverpool player, also – would have provided an extra dimension alongside Lucas. Fabio Aurelio instead filling in. The Reds a still short of a player who wants to get on the ball in midfield and dictate play – much in the mould of Xabi Alonso.
A lack of pace and penetration in attack, and particularly on the wings, has been another hindrance of Liverpool’s for a while now. This is certain to be top of the list of priorities come the summer. But for the time being Dalglish’s men struggled to make an impact for much of the first half, against a Stoke City side who were happy to get men behind the ball and make life difficult for their opponents for the most part.
This may also have been magnified by the need to adjust to a significant change in formation. The manager chose to employ three centre-backs – evidently to combat Stoke’s well-documented style. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, in the heart of the trio, performed notably well in repelling any threat from the visitors in the second period. Whilst Glen Johnson and the again impressive Martin Kelly were deployed as wingbacks.
The Reds played some pleasing one touch football at times in the opening. But lacked any genuine penetration. Kuyt, as would be expected, worked tirelessly upfront and brought others into play well. Yet clearly lacked the firepower of his predecessor.
Any notable attacking threat came through the influential and inspirational Steven Gerrard. The captain’s energy and drive alongside Raul Meireles and just behind Kuyt was a consistent concern for the Stoke defence. Yet, Gerrard often had to drop too deep into midfield in order to influence play.
The Reds belatedly sprung into life as half-time approached. Kelly’s excellent delivery provided the ammunition on two occasions. His right-wing cross was met by a powerful Johnson header, which Asmir Begovic somehow clawed out with a superb one handed save. Then Kuyt should have at least hit the target with a glancing header from another pinpoint Kelly cross. If the right-back can provide such deliver for a certain new centre-forward, once fit, there is sure to be a different end result more often than not.
Robert Huth could well have seen red from a two-footed challenge on Kelly. And Kuyt was not clinical enough to beat Begovic with a turn and shot before the break, after some neat interplay instigated by Gerrard. However, the homes fans did not have to wait long for the break through. Meireles grabbing his third goal in four games moments in to the second half.
Gerrard’s free-kick from the edge of the area was fortunately deflected into the path of Kyrgiakos. Under pressure from Huth the Greek laid the ball back to Meireles, who drove his shot past the Stoke keeper’.
Having gained the lead the Reds emitted more of a sense of control over the game. Tony Pulis’s team posed few problems to a well marshalled Liverpool defence, who have now achieved 3 successive clean sheets. John Carew was the main threat for Stoke and he did fire a warning shot across the face of Pepe Reina’s goal and narrowly wide, though.
Suarez is one man who may be able to provide that element of pace and penetration mentioned earlier. And it was the introduction of the new forward midway through the half which took the game away from the visitors. A clever flick in the penalty area almost released Martin Skrtel – in unknown territory so far forward.
But the moment Suarez will have dreamt of came 11 minutes from time. Kuyt’s pass released the Uruguayan beyond the Stoke defence. There was an element of fortune about the goal. Andy Wilkinson should have cleared off the goal line, after raced through and rounded Begovic. But Suarez will care little as he reeled away in celebration once the ball had rebounded off the post and in.
Jonjo Shelvey forced Begovic to tip over and Suarez tested him again, this time from distance. Whilst, at the other end, Reina prevented Jon Walters from reducing the arrears late on. Producing an excellent, instinctive save, as the Reds got their new era off to the prefect start with a comfortable win.
The club were quick to dismantle the huge mosaic of Fernando Torres which had adorned the outer wall of the Kop, in the wake of the striker’s departure to Chelsea. Luis Suarez will hope that his debut goal and winning start will help to erase the memory of the Kop’s former hero almost as quickly.
Man of the Match
At his influential best. Got around the pitch well and instigated much of what was good about the Reds. Kelly and Kyrgiakos also deserve a mention.