Liverpool produced a performance with plenty of positives, including a spirited fightback, to romp to a 4-1 victory over Stoke City at Anfield.
Liverpool 4–1 Stoke
Premier League, Anfield
27th December, 2016
Goals: Lallana 34’, Firmino 44’, Imbula (OG) 60’, Sturridge 70’; Walters 13’
Liverpool provided Reds everywhere with the perfect late Christmas gift as they battled back to earn a thoroughly deserved three points.
Jonathan Walters headed the away side in front after 13 minutes, but the visitors’ lead was cancelled out when Adam Lallana scored his seventh of the season from a tight angle.
An excellent first-half turnaround was completed when Roberto Firmino’s shot went in off the post, before the win was then sealed with a dominant second-half display.
Giannelli Imbula’s own goal made it 3-1, before Daniel Sturridge added gloss to the scoreline as he rounded Stoke ‘keeper Lee Grant and finished coolly just 54 seconds after coming on.
It was a fantastic display from Klopp’s men after an early setback, and there was plenty to be positive about.
Reds Produce Perfect Response
Going 1-0 down against the run of play sent shockwaves through Anfield, and could have left Klopp’s side feeling sorry for themselves.
But though Liverpool didn’t have it all their own way, needing a fine save from Simon Mignolet to stop Joe Allen making it 2-0, they brushed themselves down and produced the perfect response.
After an early wobble, Klopp’s men composed themselves with impressive assuredness, and the way they raised the tempo, moved the ball with greater purpose and provided that extra bit of energy off the ball was hugely positive.
The rewards for asserting themselves back on the game paid off 22 minutes later, as Lallana provided the equaliser, and visibly boosted by that goal, Liverpool wasted no time in grabbing another to take the lead through Firmino’s finish.
It was excellent to draw level as promptly as Liverpool did, but it was even more crucial to complete the turnaround with such speed, denying Stoke the chance to bottle the game up or sit deep and frustrate.
It was an excellent response after a rocky start, and this ultimately proved the vital, match-winning period of the game.
Lallana Leads as Liverpool’s Talisman
But the form of Lallana has ensured that Coutinho’s absence hasn’t been felt as heavily as initially feared, with the 28-year-old elevating his game to yet another level to become Liverpool’s leader.
Lallana has been a revelation under Klopp—this season particularly—but it’s the new-found influence and the extra responsibility he carries that has been most impressive—as evident again at Anfield.
With the Reds struggling after Walters’ early strike, it was again Lallana who struck first for Liverpool—for the third time in four games—to drag the Reds back into the contest.
His work thereafter didn’t relent as he set the tone for Liverpool to take the lead and control of proceedings, buzzing around, linking play while instigating the suffocation of the visitors, with his team-mates following his lead.
Lallana’s importance is as great as those considered first names on Klopp’s teamsheet now, and he fully deserved his hug from the boss at the end of another excellent afternoon.
Allen Best of the Returning Ex-Reds
The first fixture of the busy run saw Christmas reunions for four ex-Reds, as Allen, Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam returned to Anfield—the former trio named in the starting lineup.
Each will have wanted to remind Anfield of their abilities, and Allen, on his first comeback since leaving last summer, was the man to do so with an eye-catching performance before the Reds took control.
Though it wasn’t quite a display that will have left Kopites wanting Allen back, the Welshman was Stoke’s best player as they started on the front foot, finding gaps between and moving in behind Liverpool’s midfield to probe in dangerous areas.
A lot of Allen’s early action at Stoke has come in more advanced roles, and it was from this free-roaming position that earned him a huge chance to double the lead, but his effort was denied superbly by Mignolet in a game-changing moment.
Allen was the one returnee to impress, but Johnson also made his own contribution, inadvertently teeing up Lallana beautifully to slot home the equaliser.
In attack, Crouch had little to feed off, but still departed to an excellent ovation from the home crowd.
Strikers Rediscover Welcome Goalscoring Form
A huge positive of Liverpool’s play this season has been the way that the goalscoring burden has been spread throughout the team.
But even though this has been the case, having your strikers among the goals is always a welcome sight, and this was the case at Anfield where Firmino and Sturridge made needed returns to the scoresheet.
The Brazilian’s drilled finish to put the Reds ahead saw him net for the first time in six games, while Sturridge’s goal—Liverpool’s 100th under Klopp—was the 27-year-old’s first league strike of the campaign.
Joining the recently prolific Divock Origi among the goals, Klopp will be thrilled to have his three main striking options all discovering their goalscoring instinct at a crucial time of the season, and this was a huge positive from the victory.
The confidence the goals will provide to an out-of-form Firmino and largely backup figure in Sturridge, will be extremely important, providing Klopp with comfort as he devises his rotation plans for the busy schedule.
With all three strikers scoring goals of late, the German will be spoilt for choice.
Perfect Beginning to Busy Period
With the Christmas schedule a period that can shape the rest of the campaign, it was vital Liverpool started it as they mean to go on.
Klopp’s side did just that with a commanding victory, ensuring they keep Chelsea within sight while priming themselves perfectly for what is going to be a huge effort over the next two games against Man City and Sunderland.
With those fixtures coming under 48 hours apart, the Reds have the second-fewest days of rest of any side in the Premier League’s busiest period, which is sure to test the squad to the limits.
But Liverpool showed they will be as prepared as they possibly can, with not only the starting lineup but the whole match-day squad contributing to a third successive win.
The confidence gained as winning form is established will be crucial to grinding through the gruelling schedule, but so too will having a fit and firing squad.
Liverpool can certainly approach the next games with no fear. Bring on Man City.