Stoke City vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned
The superior industry of Stoke City ultimately won out in their Boxing Day clash with Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium, as the Reds slipped to a 3-1 defeat, which once again punctures the team's recent gain in optimism.
Steven Gerrard’s early penalty was quickly cancelled out and then almost forgotten altogether as goals from Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones saw the Reds lose their lead within 10 minutes. Walters added a second early in the second half to strangle the Reds’ comeback attempts.
The evening will once again have taught Brendan Rodgers a lot about the players at his disposal, but just what lessons can the rest of us learn from Liverpool’s sixth league loss of the campaign?
Struggling to Keep Up with the Pack
Wins for Tottenham, Everton and West Brom had opened up a noticeable gap between the top seven and the rest of the table before kick-off, and the Reds must have thought that they were going to move within two points of seventh place Arsenal when Gerrard slotted home a penalty in just the second minute.
But it was Stoke who moved up behind the Gunners, as the Potters quicly recovered their composure and set about using their all too familiar tactics.
The worry for Liverpool now is that they face at least another few weeks in and around the also-rans in the middle of the table, with the danger that they will become bogged down in that area come the new year.
They won’t keep getting these precious chances to make the step up.
So That’s What a Penalty Looks Like
There were stares of disbelief when Howard Webb awarded Luis Suarez a penalty inside the first minute at the Britannia, as Ryan Shawcross’s clear tug of the Uruguayan’s shirt resulted in the first spot kick of the season for Liverpool and the team's first for 32 matches since Stewart Downing missed one in a 4-1 win over Chelsea in May.
Suarez has probably been denied more clear-cut penalties during the campaign, but the Reds can only hope that the call kicks off a period in which they are luckier in the box.
Liverpool fans have long been singing that they "were going to have a party" when their forward was finally awarded a spot kick, and whilst they won’t feel like doing that after tonight, they can at least remember what a penalty looks like.
In the hours before Liverpool’s match at Stoke, Tottenham ran out convincing winners over Aston Villa at Villa Park.
Gylfi Sigurdsson appeared for the final 11 minutes of that match, whilst Clint Dempsey sat out with a groin injury. But both could easily have been wearing Liverpool red on Boxing Day had the team's summer business gone differently.
Instead, Jonjo Shelvey operated in the most advanced midfield role at the Britannia, and the youngster struggled for the second successive match, as he was squeezed out of the contest by Stoke’s physical approach.
It is important to remember that Shelvey is only 20, so consistency is unlikely to come any time soon, but this wasn’t the performance of a man looking to nail down a place in one of Liverpool’s problem positions.
Inconsistency Still Rules
It is not just Shelvey who has had good and bad days of course. This Reds side as a whole continues to show its schizophrenic nature far too often.
December alone has seen a come-from-behind victory at West Ham, followed by a limp showing at home to Aston Villa, which in turn was followed by arguably the most complete display of the season against Fulham. And now this loss to Stoke.
Such consistency probably won’t appear for the rest of the season with Rodgers trying to bed in young and new players. Any signs that the Reds are at least approaching any sort of consistency would certainly be welcome, however.
Options Are Still Limited
This is hardly news, but with Liverpool losing at the Britannia and needing a jolt to get his team back into the match, Rodgers' lack of available options off the bench was once again painfully obvious.
The three players he did bring on―Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Joe Cole―have just two Premier League goals between them this season. As a result, with the team having to rely once again on the hard-working Suarez, there wasn’t much that hinted Liverpool could get back into the game.
Rodgers has been unable to alter matches through substitutions this season simply because he hasn’t got the resources to.
Righting that wrong as soon as possible is key.
Growing Up the Hard Way
Suso played in the first half, and Sterling played in the second. Although both teenagers will probably want to forget their evenings, maybe they should hold onto the memories.
Both players have the skills and abilities to forge long careers at Anfield, but this was a lesson in toughness for the pair, who showed a willingness to stand up to their opponents, though they ultimately fell short along with their team.
Adding a mean streak would perhaps help the two youngsters―certainly in front of goal―and so maybe they can learn from Stoke’s style even if Liverpool took little else from the Britannia.