A win’s a win’s a win.
It was a most mediocre football match, as befitting a clash with Stoke. Yet, it’s nothing to do with Stoke being a long-ball team or anything. If anything, Stoke played the better football in the first half, even if they were mostly toothless. The Barcelona influence is clear with so many ex-Barca rejects in the team, and they definitely passed better than Liverpool early in the game.
The best chances of the first half came to Stoke, but Adam and Johnson both messed up. It’s ironic that it’s the ex-Liverpool players that screwed it up, but even the chances they had were pretty poor. Bar a few through-balls from Liverpool, the attack was terrible. Benteke got no service at all, isolated as Milner and Henderson played a deep double pivot.
This meant a disconnect between the back 6 and the front 4, who were left on their own devices. Coutinho had a pretty poor game, and Lallana could only press aimlessly. Ibe was the only bright spark in the game, combining well with Clyne who had a very good, classy debut. Gomez on the other end looked like the centre-back he was, rarely venturing forward, but his defending was pretty good in an unfamiliar position on his Premier League debut, just a year after his senior debut.
Lovren, given the toothlessness of Stoke, was not too bad, but Skrtel was distinctly lacklustre. And this malaise basically just fell over the game, which was dull all the way until the second half, when both teams seemed to wake up a little.
Can’s substitution moved Liverpool into a 4-3-3, a formation that was so obviously more suited to us than 4-2-3-1 on the basis of pre-season. And indeed, our attack seemed much more capable, with Henderson and Milner venturing forwards more and contributing to the attack. Firmino’s introduction gave him the chance to show his chops, and he looked good in the short cameo he had too, even if it came at the expense of Ibe, our best player today.
Unfortunately, despite the increase in tempo, the game continued to remain goalless until Coutinho reminded everyone that he was still playing. He picked up the ball from Gomez, spun his marker and fired a long range stunner that basically ended the contest.
It’s a good way to finish a game at the Britannia, because we have a torrid record there and we did just lose 6-1 at the end of last season. Keeping a clean sheet and snatching all 3 points is a pretty good result. But questions remain. Why did we go to 4-2-3-1? Is Lovren-Gomez on our left going to hold up against better attacks? Is our midfield going to be workmanlike and completely devoid of attacking impetus, just like the first half of this match? Is our attack going to remain as blunt as it is, having to rely on worldies from Coutinho?
Let’s hope Rodgers gets it right.