Stoke City vs Liverpool: Five talking points
The Reds succumbed to yet another defeat in 2012, their sixth loss of the campaign, when they went down 3-1 to Stoke City at the Britannica Stadium late on Boxing Day. The match started brightly for the visitors, with Captain Fantastic Steven Gerrard tucking away a penalty in the 1st minute itself, only the 4th goal that the Potters have conceded at the Britannica this season.
The lead didn’t last for long, as Jonanthan Walters equalized for the home side within three minutes, and Kenwyne Jones gave them the lead with just 13 minutes on the clock. Walters would later double his tally early on in the second half, to hand Stoke a hard fought 3-1 victory.
Five major talking points from the game were:
1) Poor Liverpool defending
Stoke have a well documented direct style of play, with their players constantly launching long balls to the strikers such as Jones and Walters, so that they can use their aerial dominance to win the ball and score goals. Against the Reds, the Stoke formula worked to absolute perfection, with the striking duo winning aerial battles with utmost ease at times. Skrtel’s unfortunate slip led to Walters scoring the equalizer for Stoke, even though the full-back Johnson should’ve made a better attempt at closing Walters down.
Gerrard’s poor marking led to Jones’s header creeping into the corner netting eight minutes later, when the skipper should’ve been standing guard at the near post instead of bumbling into Daniel Agger, who had been marking Jones. Agger and Skrtel were once again easily out-muscled by the opposition pair for the third goal, with Walters easily scoring after being set-up by Jones, who was able to easily beat Skrtel for the ball from one of Stoke City’s trademark long throw-ins.
While it is understandable that the Stoke players are built to dominate aerially, it still doesn’t cover up the fact that all three goals could have been easily avoided from a Liverpool point of view.
2) Stoke’s industrious play was the difference
Stoke City have cultivated a reputation for being modern day ‘hard men’ of the league, and they certainly lived up to the infamous moniker last night. The players bullied the opposition off the ball, never giving the technically more proficient Reds the time they needed on the ball. Aerial domination won the game for the Potters, with Kenwnye Jones having his best match for ages. Each player strived to win the ball back the second he lost it, with the home side showing that an excellent work-rate can make a huge difference.
Their response to the initial setback was astounding, immediately pounding away at the Red defence. Although most of the plaudits will go to the strikers, special mention must be reserved for the midfield, with Matthew Etherington being the stand-out performer. Etherington’s pace and constant bombardment was too much to handle for Liverpool, with the normally effervescent Agger seemingly out-of-sorts. There was a real sense of purpose with the way the Potters went about playing the game, implementing the tactics of Tony Pulis to devastating effect.
3) Luis Suarez is one of the players of the season, if not the best
As the dominoes fell apart one by one, there was one left standing tall. Constantly drive at the heart of the home defence, Suarez engaged himself in a tantalizing battle with the duo of Shawcross and Huth. Winning the penalty in 30 seconds, he gave Shawcross an absolute nightmare throughout the game, never once giving the home captain a moment’s peace. He was booed from the get go, even more so after the instant penalty.
Refusing to bow down to the hard tackling defenders, Suarez went about his business with a sense of panache and class, working harder than every other player present on the pitch. Surprisingly, the reckless over-appealing and his in-your-face style was absent from his game. Maybe it’s a sign that one of the most talented player of his generation is finally maturing, instead of being the root cause for notoriety on the pitch.
4) Inconsistency leads you nowhere
After one of their best performances of the season against Fulham in the weekend, one would’ve expected Liverpool to take the fight to the home side and provide their fans with a master-class in one of the hardest places to visit in the league. Jonjo Shelvey learnt things the hard way, with the defence literally squeezing out the young midfielder, who was playing right behind Suarez. Shelvey’s been horribly inconsistent all season long and will have to make sure the quality of his performances increase, to avoid earning himself a permanent spot on the bench.
The likes of Suso and Henderson were non-existent from the get-go, with the young Spaniard being heckled out of the game by the merciless home defence, after a relatively promising start to the encounter. While the jury may still be out on Henderson, he seemed completely lost from the second he came on. Showcasing zero attacking impetus, Henderson seemed content with constantly passing the ball sideways and backwards, putting more pressure on his side in the process. If improvement isn’t shown drastically, then come May, he just might find himself surplus to requirements at Anfield.
Lucas could be blamed much for his display, as his lack of match practice was evident. He was unable to physically keep up with the opposition, and was eventually replaced by Henderson.
5) The gap rises
Tottenham recorded a thumping 4-0 win at Aston Villa to move into the coveted 4th spot on 33 points, eight clear of the chasing Reds. Gareth Bale’s mesmerizing hat-trick led Spurs to the victory, who are level with Everton and West Brom on 33 points, with the latter two also recording victories. While the Reds may have the quality to challenge for the Champions League spots, the results are just too fluctuating at the moment. While other sides keep on winning, Liverpool are at risk of rotting in mid-table mediocrity.
They next travel to London to take on QPR, a far more easier match up. There is no room for complacency, as the Reds fell to a 3-2 defeat at the same location last season. If the results don’t start to pick up immediately, Liverpool are in serious danger of falling out of the race for the 4th spot by March itself.
The teams above them will drop points, so the Reds can find comfort in the fact that all is not last after all. Consistency should be the mantra Rodgers instils into the heads of the players.