Brendan Rodgers pushed all the right buttons on this day starting with his first XI that featured three new faces in the form of Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas and Kolo Toure. In retrospect, this game should have been over by the hour mark, with the Reds dominating the play and having the better of the chances. However, a win is a win, and you shouldn’t hear many complaints from fans and pundits alike.
Liverpool started out the contest sprightly, with Daniel Sturridge having a goal disallowed for offside and Toure hitting the crossbar following a vicious header from an early corner. The Reds settled into their passing game from the start, with Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard spraying the ball all over the park. Were it not for Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, Liverpool might’ve had a two goal cushion at the break with the Bosnia and Herzegovina International turning away a handful of chances. Coutinho was outstanding throughout, his link up play with Aspas and Jose Enrique will be a positive sign going forward this season for Liverpool.
It seemed that every attack was going through the creative Brazilian, usually to good effect.
The pass and move ideology that Rodgers has been trying to instill at the club since his arrival was on full display today. Sturridge, Aspas, Coutinho and Jordan Henderson were interweaving with a fluidity of a well-oiled machine. I thought for his case, Henderson had an outstanding day today. He was aggressive at both ends of the pitch and was unlucky not to have scored following a pair of superb strikes, including hitting the post just past the hour mark. The man who did score however, was the electrifying Sturridge in the 37th minute. His left footed strike from outside the box was the result of some excellent build up play, which saw the England forward finish the movement with aplomb.
Hopefully, for Liverpool fans, that is the first of many goals this season for their No. 15. It is exactly the type of goal that we’ve come to expect from Rodgers’ side.
The attack was good moving forward and they created a myriad of chances throughout the day (25 shots to be exact). The caveat will be the Reds will need to be more clinical in front of goal against stiffer opposition or else they run the risk of dropping valuable points. At the back, Toure and Daniel Agger formed a solid pairing in the center of the defense, while Enrique and Glen Johnson mixed bombing runs and terrific backtracking to great effect at the fullback positions. Toure’s veteran presence was evident from the start, as he settled into the side without a hitch.
If he can maintain this form, the Liverpool defense will be better for it. With the possible addition of Aly Cissokho, I think we could see Enrique getting more time in an advanced role. The Spaniard made a few well-timed overlapping runs that will have his teammates and boss salivating at yet another attacking option. One drawback is Liverpool still looked suspect on set pieces. They made a hash of a few corners and free kicks, which might’ve seen Stoke nab a late equalizer. Rodgers must find a way to improve his team’s set piece defense or else see his team burned at some point this season.
New boy Mignolet looked shaky throughout in goal, especially with the ball at his feet. There were a few times that his indecision had the Anfield crowd cringing. Ultimately, when it mattered most, Mignolet rose to the occasion. There was his wonder save from a John Walters strike in the 41st minute and the absolutely crucial 89th min penalty stop following an egregious blunder from Agger, whose flailing arms resulted in a needless penalty. It looked eerily similar to the past few years in that Liverpool dominate the game, but can’t put their opponent away and end up giving away a cheap goal to drop points. On this day though, the Belgian had the goods.
Not only did he save the penalty, he followed it up with an outstanding stop on Kenwyne Jones’ rebound attempt. The reaction of not only the fans but the players on the pitch is an example of just how important this game was for the football club. It was undeniably a must win game for Liverpool. Had they failed to garner all three points, the same doubts that the club has been trying to dispel would have arisen once again and the following week would have been the longest in quite a while.
?verall, it was a confident display from Liverpool that saw them capture the deserved win. Their passing was outstanding as was their understanding of what Rodgers wants to accomplish on a weekly basis. They held the better possession (55% of the ball) and created more than double the chances of the opposition. The free flowing attack will only improve over time, and Luis Suarez must have been itching up in his press box to link up with his compatriots. Liverpool look like a very good side this season, but too much cannot be taken from this game.
Opening day fixtures are a season all their own, with every club still shaking off the cobwebs. It won’t be until the fifth game of the season that we will see what Liverpool really has to offer the Premier League this campaign. In the end, it was an entertaining match, albeit needlessly tense, but it’s a three points well earned. Rodgers can rest easy tonight, but tomorrow must see the team turn its attention to Aston Villa in Week 2.
Man of the Match: Philippe Coutinho– The mesmerizing Brazilian was tremendous today with his creativity and vision opening up the cumbersome and static Stoke defense. He created a handful of chances and looks to not have missed a beat from last season.
He will need to continue being the focal point of the attack for Liverpool. More performances like this one will be expected going forward.