Liverpool vs. Stoke City: Rating the Victorious Reds Players in FA Cup
Liverpool put in a good team performance to overcome Stoke City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Anfield and progress to a Wembley semifinal against either Sunderland or Everton. Several top individual performances led the way, but it was certainly the collective effort which aided the Reds' qualifications.
Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing got themselves on the score sheet on both sides of former Red Peter Crouch's equalizing header.
A feisty and at times slightly abrasive match saw twice as many yellow cards as goals, while neither of the referee's assistants covered themselves in glory with a spate of dubious calls.
Liverpool were the better side over the 90 minutes and deserved their spot in the semifinals—their second appearance at Wembley this season, while Stoke City are yet to win at Liverpool since their last victory in 1959.
Here are the Liverpool players' ratings from the FA Cup win.
Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina
Pepe Reina had a very quiet afternoon at Anfield, which is something of a rarity in itself against a determined and aggressive Stoke City outfit.
Before Peter Crouch's headed equalizer, Reina had next to nothing to do except pluck the odd cross out of the air and watch Ryan Shotton's effort from distance sail miles over his bar.
The corner for Crouch's goal should never have been awarded, but some have questioned Reina's inability to get in front of Shotton to claim the cross or make the save, instead complaining to referee Kevin Friend that a free kick should have been awarded.
Any fan of England will know that free kicks have been given to 'keepers for far less—remember Sol Campbell against Portugal, or Argentina?—but perhaps Reina on this occasion should have done better.
After the goal it was spectator stuff for Reina as he watched his team dominate the match. His distribution was quick and accurate on the occasions he did claim high balls into his box.
Later on there were a flurry of long throw-ins to deal with, which Reina did well, and ultimately it was a stroll to the end of the game for the Spanish stopper.
Pepe Reina: 7 / 10
Full-Backs: Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique
With Glen Johnson continuing his rehabilitation from injury, Martin Kelly continued to deputise at right-back.
He was booked early on, just the fourth minute, for a late sliding tackle on Matthew Etherington—but put in a typically accomplished performance after that.
Kelly got forward to attack with real menace and almost had a great shooting opportunity late on which eventually led to his substitution with injury.
A marvelous block on Cameron Jerome in the second half showed his defensive awareness.
On the left, Jose Enrique had a similarly good game.
He attacked during the first half much more as there was space to raid into, with Maxi Rodriguez drifting infield more often than not.
However, Jose Enrique's crosses were not exactly pinpoint, as he failed to cause too much panic down that flank or give the forwards much to attack.
In the second half he was more restricted, but still linked up well with Stewart Downing once the winger swapped flanks.
He did display his propensity to under-estimate danger at times though, particularly when attempting to let the ball roll out for a goal kick—except Jon Walters kept it in, which might have caused a real problem at the back.
Martin Kelly: 7 / 10
Jose Enrique: 7 / 10
Central Defenders: Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher
Glen Johnson continues sidelined, and so does centre-back Daniel Agger, who has fractured ribs for the second time this season.
As a result, Jamie Carragher continued in the starting 11 to partner Martin Skrtel.
Skrtel has been in imperious form since November and, though the two did not have oodles of defensive work to do against Stoke, he did show his awareness and strength in the tackle to put the boot in on two occasions which might otherwise have led to real chances on goal for Peter Crouch and Jon Walters.
Carragher was at his authoritative best, keeping the defence in line and repelling the frequent aerial assaults that Stoke launched.
He also switched to right-back later on when Martin Kelly was substituted.
Martin Skrtel: 7 / 10
Jamie Carragher: 7 / 10
Central Midfield: Jay Spearing and Steven Gerrard
Jay Spearing continued in midfield alongside Steven Gerrard at the expense of Charlie Adam, and again the two produced a controlled and impressive 90 minute display.
Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead might not pose the most technical of opponents but their never-ending pressing and willingness to run beyond the opposition provides a significant and stern test of any midfield pairing nonetheless.
Spearing and Gerrard retained control of the match regardless, for long stretches at a time.
Both defended willingly and got forward at key moments, dovetailing well, though of course Gerrard had more licence to get forward more often.
Spearing flashed an effort towards the top corner in the second half but was more noticeable for his double challenge on the edge of his own box as Stoke attempted a free-kick routine, while Gerrard was instrumental in Liverpool's winner; making up the extra man in the final third and linking up with Stewart Downing—albeit not in the manner the duo intended—to flash home the winner.
A sterling job in midfield from the Scouse-born duo.
Jay Spearing: 8 / 10, Man of the Match
Steven Gerrard: 8 / 10
Wingers: Stewart Downing and Maxi Rodriguez
Maxi Rodriguez made his first start for Liverpool since the FA Cup third round in January, playing on the left hand side of midfield. Stewart Downing therefore switched from that flank to the right.
While Downing saw plenty of the ball early on, he was frequently forced infield instead of down the wing, preferring to cut inside and cross with his left foot.
However his few crosses were inaccurate and easily cleared.
He improved after the break and made more runs down the side of the pitch, and linked up better with his attacking team-mates when coming infield.
The culmination of this was of course his match-winning strike, which fell his way after his pass to Steven Gerrard was deflected back into his path.
A great first touch gave Downing the opportunity to smash home his second Liverpool goal, and set the Reds to Wembley.
Maxi was involved in the build-up to Liverpool's opening goal, exchanging passes with Luis Suarez before the forward curled Liverpool ahead.
Other than that Maxi was unfortunately clearly short of match fitness and sharpness.
He struggled to get involved in the centre of the pitch and was rarely seen on the flank to help Liverpool in wide areas.
Stewart Downing: 7 / 10
Maxi Rodriguez: 6 / 10
Forwards: Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll
Despite one of them scoring, it was at times a frustrating and quiet afternoon for Liverpool's forwards Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.
Carroll was subjected to long spells of fruitless wandering back and forth as a succession of first half attacks petered out without the final ball resulting in a cross or pass to attack.
Indeed, his fortunes did not get much better in the first half as he failed to track Peter Crouch at a corner, which the former Red headed in for an equalizer.
In the second period Carroll was more involved, dropping deeper to get the ball and spreading the ball wide, while he also spearheaded the Reds' attack well without ever really having the chance to threaten goal.
Luis Suarez was kept largely quiet in the first half hour of the game, with a succession of fouls on the Uruguayan causing annoyance and disbelief at the lack of free kicks heading Liverpool's way.
However his brilliance manifested itself for Liverpool's opening goal.
Picking the ball up deep, Suarez swapped passes with Maxi and curled a sumptuous finish into the far corner for one-nil.
Much of the rest of the game was spent with Suarez linking play as Liverpool continually pressed Stoke, though he did have one or two moments of danger thereafter, notably when he glanced a header just wide of the far post from a free kick.
Suarez left the field injured late on, though Liverpool will hope he returns for the midweek clash with QPR.
Luis Suarez: 8 / 10
Andy Carroll: 6 / 10
Substitutes: Dirk Kuyt, Jordan Henderson, Sebastian Coates
Kenny Dalglish used just one of his seven substitutes before the final moments of the game, as he replaced the returning Maxi Rodriguez with Dirk Kuyt.
Kuyt had half an hour and had a decent impact, drifting infield and working the flanks with equal gusto and helping to improve Liverpool's final third play considerably.
One rasping drive, though on target, was straight at Thomas Sorensen and was the only real opportunity to shoot that he had.
With a minute left on the clock, both Martin Kelly and Luis Suarez went off injured to be replaced by Jordan Henderson and Sebastian Coates, neither of whom had a chance to figure in the actual play despite five minutes of injury time.
Dirk Kuyt: 7 / 10
Jordan Henderson: no rating
Sebastian Coates: no rating
Unused subs: Alexander Doni, Jon Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey, Charlie Adam.