If anyone had any doubts that no one will ever predict a Liverpool line-up than the lunchtime match with Stoke City is further proof if any was ever needed. Wearing the all-black change kit, the Reds (Blacks) presented themselves with Reina, Carragher (Capt), Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Degen, Mascherano, Lucas, Aurelio, Kuyt and Ngog. On the bench we had Cavalieri, Aquilani, Maxi, Riera, Spearing, Pacheco and Darby.
Liverpool presented themselves with a 4-4-2 formation for the match. Stoke City are THE Premier League team that base most of their attacking play on set pieces, Liverpool is THE Premier League club that has set pieces as it’s Achilles Heel. So all the conditions were right for an interesting contest.
With Agger not available, Kyrgiakos was drafted in, keeping in mind the aerial threat Stoke can provide. Lee Mason was the match referee, and we were on our way.
Electrifying atmosphere at the Brittania Stadium which is reputed to be the loudest football venue in the PL and the 27,247 present for the match promised to keep this record in check. Stoke make sure that all ball-boys carried the ever present towel to give Delap, Higgenbotham and Diao added grip on their long range handed efforts. This time, the towels were not removed.
It seemed evident from the line-up that we would have limited offensive potential, and proof of this was that Stoke’s shotstopper Sorensen got a first touch of the ball on the 10 minute mark. However, although most of the play was in midfield Liverpool started to increase offensive efforts which were all breaking up at the height of the penalty area. Our only shot at goal in the first half being a scuffed first time volley from Aurelio which ended up being an innocuous cross. Kuyt was practically ineffective up front and Ngog was being thrown and pushed around by Huth with great ease.
In the space of two minutes Stoke lost two important players with Delap coming off replaced by Lawrence, and Wilkinson coming on for Faye. In between these substitutions Lucas was yellow carded for appearing to go down too easily in the Stoke penalty area were all Liverpool players appealed for a penalty.
The rest of the half was played mostly in midfield with Stoke enjoying 65% of possession. If we had any intention of going for the three points, something had to be changed for the second half and both Kuyt and Ngog seemed ineffective and never really troubled the Stoke defense.
If anything the much feared aerial threat from set pieces never really seemed to trouble Reina much.
The Reds seemed to start the second half with more initiative, but Stoke took control again soon after. On 57th minute, Liverpool were awarded a free kick for a challenge on Degen. Aurelio took charge and lashed in a screamer that somehow Kyrgiakos managed to push in goal out of sheer persistence. The goal came totally against the run of play but no Reds fan was complaining.
The Reds seemed to take reprieve out of the unexpected lead, then on 65th minute Riccardo Fuller was brought on for Sidibe in a straight swap. Moments later ex-Red Salif Diao was yellow carded for an angry reaction to a free kick blown against him by Lee Mason. Fuller made his presence felt almost immediately with a good headed effort from a corner that Reina neutralized. On 77th minute came the PL debut for Maxi Rodriquez in a Liverpool shirt (probably not the best game for a debut). Maxi replaced Philippe Degen.
With Aquilani coming on for Ngog on 87th, Stoke organized their final onslaught and notwithstanding Pepe Reina being superlatively secure and imposing in clearing all Stoke’s volleys into his penalty box, a congenital defect of zonal marking (no one guarding the posts) gave Robert Huth the chance to equalize for Stoke City on the 89th minute, and I must say that the survival fighters deserved at least a point from the game.
Five minutes were added in the second period, and on the 95th minute of play, Liverpool played their best move of the game. Aquilani picked ball on the half line sending Aurelio to run on the left flank. The brazilian sent in a cross that Kuyt pounced on in a flying header that hit the upright and bounce back into play. We might have deserved a stroke of luck but it would have been totally unfair on Stoke.
If statistics mean anything we did not have a single corner kick to our account and we had only 2 clear shots on goal; one went in, the second hit the upright.
We got one point from this game and 4th spot seems that bit more distant. Next up are Spurs at Anfield on Wednesday. May the Gods help us!
My man of the match is Reina without question. He did nothing wrong, not even getting a yellow card for time wasting. Kyrgiakos was called upon and did his job, with the added bonus of scoring a goal in place of a very ineffective attack which was totally outmanned by Shawcross and Huth. Maxi’s debut cannot be judged and Aquilani only came on to waste some time. Carra did well on the right, Insua was slightly dodgy on the left. Skrtel was very secure. Mascherano and Lucas ran their socks off as usual. Kuyt was disappointing except for the last second effort what would have brought some respite. Degen and Aurelio on the flanks did not seem that effective but they did provide a decent defensive cover when called upon. The curious thing about Degen is that the lad always seems to have a smile on his face even when he is being kicked about. By the way, I did see Aurelio kick the ball with his right on two occasions (what a relief).
Six wins in 21 matches is just not what we are used to! Anyone ready to forecast the line up against Spurs?