Liverpool scraped their way to their first Premiership win in four games yesterday with a hard-earned 1-0 victory against Mark Hughes’ spirited Stoke City Side. Glen Johnson headed in bravely from close range to record the only goal of the game and secure the hosts a vital three points. Naturally with the Reds, the result did not come without incident.
Brendan Rodgers clearly took heed from The LFC File prematch words making two key changes that fans and footballing common sense have been crying out for, for a good while. Steven Gerrard was replaced by Lucas Leiva. The latter’s recent performances in the Champions League duly rewarded. Dejan Lovren who’s showing since his arrival has been less than impressive – to say the least – was replaced by Kolo Touré alongside Martin Skrtel. Again in keeping with the view that selection should be dictated by merit and not simply on the basis of dogmatism and past reputations.
José Enrique came in at left back and Glen Johnson replaced Javi Manquillo at right back. Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and Pjilippe Coutinho completed the diamond. Whilst Raheem Sterling supported striker Rickie Lambert. In the absence of a better option, Simon Mignolet retained his place. One has to wonder how long Brendan Rodgers can continue with this goalkeeping situation and why in the time since taking over the management of the club he hasn’t sought suitable back up. Brad Jones is definitely not it. The changes did have a positive effect on the team however.
The first half in general was unremarkable. This I would say, was because there was less drama at the back. Beside the fact that Stoke like most visitors looked to play on the counter, Touré brought some much needed organisation to the back four. In view of that they didn’t have much to do. Allied to the introduction of Lucas in the holding midfield role his tenacity and aggression meant the defending started higher up the pitch. Lucas is a natural in the position. My opinion is he lost his place not due to a genuine lack of form but simply so that Rodgers could indulge his obsession with prolonging Gerrard’s career by playing him in that role. A strategy that I believe ultimately cost Liverpool the Premiership last season.
The second half was much better and Liverpool began to play a more expansive game. Raheem Sterling was lively and continually asked questions of the Stoke defence despite the physical attention from Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson. Coutinho made a couple of good runs at the heart of the visitors’ defence and was more positive than we’ve seen of late. A number of times though, the young Brazilian failed to bring others into play when options were available but his confidence is coming back. To say this was a game of two halves would be an understatement.
Liverpool played some of the best football they’ve played this season in the second half with 16 attempts at goal. Henderson came close after a good move on the edge of the visitors box – snatching his shot just wide. Allen, Sterling both went close and you’d have been forgiven for thinking that the hosts would regret not taking them. Especially as earlier Bojan Krkic had hit the post with a cracking drive that would have broke the net had it gone in, just after the Spaniard had played a clever ball through to Mame Biram Diouf. Mignolet keeping his nerve in the resulting one-on-one.
Another chance for the hosts followed Sterling picking up a stray pass and pushing a perfectly weighted ball through to Lucas, only for him to shoot straight at Asmir Berković. Allen, following good work from Sterling nudged his shot onto the bar and over from 5 yards out. Lambert also went close after being fed by Johnson but his weak shot was collected by the impressive Berković. All this either side of a Sterling clearance of the line. On 85 minutes the breakthrough came.
Henderson’s centre finding Lambert who’s header came off the cross bar. Enter Johnson stage left! The right back darted into the box looking to connect with the rebound. His diving header poked the ball past Berković to put Liverpool ahead and taking a boot in the head in the process. The hosts now had to play out the remaining five minutes. Stoke however had other ideas and Bojan forced Mignolet into a spectacular save to tip his effort over the bar.
The substitution from Rodgers there after kind of summed up the teams current frailty. The boss, clearly fearing his teams ability to retain their advantage, took off Coutinho replacing him with Lovren to make a 5-3-2. Desperation doesn’t come close and the seven, yes seven minutes of added time only made it worse. Liverpool hung on to claim their first league win in four to end their recent slide in form and fortune in recent weeks with losses to Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Newcastle. Not to mention much speculation over Rodgers’ tenure in the job and criticism to match. Much of it justified in my opinion.
The result came with players largely discarded up to now, which should raise questions over Rodgers’ activity in the transfer market. It’s time the club started to look for some experience because this current strategy of buying unproven youngsters – often for inflated fees – will not provide any big improvement in the near term. Those that have impressed such as Emre Can and Adam Lallana should be played more.
The team travel to Leicester on Tuesday and all eyes will be trained on Rodgers’ selection for this match. It’s vital the team pushes on from the second half performance yesterday so for me, if he needs to start with the same 11, so be it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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