By Ernie Fox
So what did we really learn from today’s result?
It was better than the last time we played Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. But then, a 4-1 defeat would have been better than last season, and yet far from acceptable. Let’s make one thing clear, last season was a freak occasion, the collapse of a side who had failed to achieve their objectives and no longer had the energy or inclination to put up a fight is hardly one to compare performances with. We can’t use last season’s defeat as a marker for this year’s performance or we will get no where.
Let’s start with a realistic view of the situation. The opening game of the season is often a tricky fixture to win – just ask Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea fans – both teams are conscious about making errors or giving away an early advantage; add to that is the fact that travelling to play Stoke at their own ground is never an easy affair and you are left with the realisation that on this occasion the result really is more important than the performance. Add to that the haunting thoughts of last season’s performance that was most likely playing on some of the players’ minds, and you will realise that today’s result was far more impressive than simply winning an ordinary Premier League match. It was a huge challenge that we have overcome.
But how did we do?
We weren’t sensational, we didn’t sweep Stoke aside, but actually we were fairly good. We were composed in possession, we didn’t panic when we failed to take the lead early on, but instead kept in the game despite Stoke creating some decent opportunities. The back four looked far better organised despite 50% of them making their league debuts, and for an 18 year old, Joe Gomez was remarkable; and Mingolet pulled off some fantastic saves and deserves credit for the first clean sheet of the season.
Critics of Liverpool will say that if it weren’t for the brilliance of one man we wouldn’t have won the game, but that is the reason for having world class players like Coutinho isn’t it? Of course we can’t expect him to rescue us every time, but for those tricky games when we need that stroke of magic, we now have a player who is experienced enough in the game to have an influence and talented enough to make a difference. Steven Gerrard was right at last season’s club awards when he stated that Coutinho was the future, I have no doubt that today’s result was a sign of things to come for as long as we can keep hold of him, Coutinho will be a match winner and hopefully so much more.
Throughout time league champions have been those teams who have been able to scrap out three points as much as those who have been able to sweep away the opposition with majestic ease. What we can say from today’s performance is that there is a lot to be positive about, a lot of possibility for this season to come. Benteke didn’t score but he certainly occupied the opposition defence, with the introduction of Firmino as well it contributed to the space generated allowing Coutinho to fire in his wonder strike that won the game.
Are we title contenders?
We’ve played one game and won one, so we’re certainly still in with a shout. It is obviously too early to tell, but it’s a fantastic start, I don’t think you could ask for more than three points from your opening fixture. As the season goes on we will expect to see better performances, quicker passing with more intense and attacking game play, but for a first game with four debutants in the starting eleven we can’t complain.
There are 37 games to go in the league, and we will certainly not win all of them, but if we can improve throughout the season then a 1-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium where it is likely that other title challengers won’t be so successful, is a good place to start.
For me, the main learning point is that our little Brazilian magician showed signs that he is possibly ready to step up to the mark and make those world class performances on a more regular basis. Be prepared to hear those familiar phrases starting “If it wasn’t for Coutinho…” we will more than likely hear plenty of them throughout the season. As for Benteke, I am confident he will have a successful season in front of goal, however even if he doesn’t reach the 20 goal mark, his contribution could be considered substantial if he provides sufficient physical presence in the attacking third to allow space for Coutinho and Firmino to show off their talents.
At last the season has started, and after one game we have a 100% winning record, it’s the positive start that we were all hoping for. We have a number of tough away fixtures to come, if we can find a similar success in the next few tough away matches then we will be looking at another decent league campaign, who cares about the performance? But one thing at a time
Overall, Liverpool won and Coutinho provided a matching winning moment of sheer class, what more do you need going into a new season? It’s the start we needed, the perfect foundation from which to build our season from. Let’s hope it continues.
Written by Ernie Fox