The full time whistle was met with relief around Anfield as Glen Johnson’s diving header five minutes from time ended a run of five games without a win. Although the narrow win has eased the pressure on Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool still lie 11th in the table, 5 points short of rivals Manchester United sitting in the last champions league place.
The Liverpool line up was a much-changed one. The most notable changes being Captain Steven Gerrard and under fire centre back Dejan Lovren replaced by Lucas and Kolo Toure. Gerrard was dropped for the first time this season in the league, 16 years to the day he made his Liverpool debut. Jose Enrique also made a rare start at left back after a long spell on the sidelines replacing Javier Manquillo. Liverpool also boasted 87 million pounds worth of talent on the bench, as summers signings Dejan Lovren, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana and lazar Markovic all had to settle for a place in the dug out.
The first half was nothing less than shocking with both teams failing to register a shot on target. It was same old for Liverpool up top as they have been throughout the season. There was no tempo or attacking football that was a big success in the previous campaign. The lack of confidence was evident as players shied away in the final third.
The second half however was a big improvement, as Liverpool showed ambition going forward as the likes of Raheem Sterling and Phillip Coutinho caused Erik Pieters and Geoff Cameron all sorts of problems down the wings. Lucas and Allen both had great chances to put Liverpool in the lead. Lucas was denied by a good save from onrushing Stoke Asmir Begovic, whereas Joe Allen somehow fired his shot over the bar from just 6 yards after Sterling squared the ball. An astonishing miss from a midfielder who lacks important goals in his game.
With the crowd growing frustrated at the prospect of a SIXTH game without a win Rodgers brought on Gerrard, and this instantly lifted Anfield. And with just five minutes to play, Glen Johnson’s brave diving header after Rickie Lambert’s header looped agonizingly on the bar snatched the points from Stoke. Johnson got a sore head for his efforts, although I’m sure he will admit was well worth scoring the winning goal.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Liverpool however as Stoke had chances of their own to win the game. Bojan had two massive chances. The first effort came when Bojan cut inside of Lucas and rattled the post. The second coming seconds from time as his dipping volley was tipped over by the fingertips of Simon Mignolet. Stoke will therefore be disappointed with the defeat, as another day might have seen them come away with all three points.
Lucas and Kolo Toure were brought in to tighten up a very leaky defence and their introduction into the team made a telling difference. From the start the difference was evident as Toure took control of the defence. His leadership at the back was apparent, as Liverpool rarely looked threatened through the middle. Lucas also had a huge part to play in this. Sitting in front of the defence he cleared up any Stoke attacks helping protect the back four. You have to question why it has taken Rodgers this long to bring both into the team. Especially considering both Toure and Lucas played remarkably well against Real Madrid, the same team that just 2 weeks prior ran the Liverpool defence ragged. And how did he reward these performances? By dropping them both back to the bench. Lovren has been poor all season, and while Rodgers wants to stick faith in the 20 million pound summer signings there’s no defending his poor performances. Gerrard has also performed well below his personal standards this season, and although Rodgers is adapting him to a new defensive role I don’t think its cut out for Gerrard. Time and time again he is out of position and leaves the defence highly exposed. Most teams have found out his deep role where he picks up the ball and dictates the play. For me he can only play in one role and that’s in an attacking midfield role where he can unlock defences and have a big impact on the game.
Under fire keeper Simon Mignolet had a rare good game as he made numerous important saves throughout the game although the fans will still be calling for a new keeper to be brought in when the winter transfer window opens.
Finally Glen Johnson had yet another poor game. A controversial opinion, but too often against Stoke he lost the ball in attacking positions. He was constantly out of position and was often beaten by his Stoke opposite, and had it not been for his late goal, Liverpool fans would once again be slating him for another appalling performance. The only negative to his late winner is that it merits him a starting place for the next five or so games to come. Manquillo when played this season has been far superior at right back with solid performances. Otherwise I was impressed with Rodgers’ line up for the game.
The win against Stoke will all be for nothing unless Liverpool pick up maximum points from their next two league games (Leicester away, Sunderland home), and progress through to the champions league knockouts. Failure to do so will increase the pressure on Brendan Rodgers and FSG as more fans become impatient with the teams poor set of results.