Liverpool gave themselves a great start at a notoriously tough-to-visit Britannia Stadium with an early penalty from Steven Gerrard—but renounced any chance of victory through an inability to defend properly against the usual threat from Stoke City.
Jonathan Walters, Kenwyne Jones and Walters a second time scored the goals for the Potters, with each of the strikes coming after aerial challenges were contested—and lost—by Reds defenders.
Stoke's threat is well known. The physicality of their side and their preferred option of attacking directly from both deep balls from centre and crosses from wider areas of the pitch means there were no surprises for the Reds coaching staff.
This being so, it was a huge disappointment that the team was unable to repel the inevitable barrage they suffered at times.
Daniel Agger won the initial header against Jones for the Stoke equaliser but was unable to really gain any measure of control over the ball in the challenge, leaving Walters free to run in on goal after Martin Skrtel lost his footing.
Jones' goal was even more disappointing.
From a routine near-post corner, Steven Gerrard neither blocked off the man, covered the front of the 6-yard box nor guarded the post, Agger again failed to stay in control of Jones, and Glen Johnson was unable to make meaningful connection with the ball on the line.
A very preventable goal was basically conceded because of a series of instances of non-concentration.
Finally, a long throw-in which looped around 20 metres in the air was again too easily won by Jones between two defenders, and Walters was allowed too much time and space to control and volley home the ball.
Kenwyne Jones won a massive 19 aerial duels during the game, the same as Skrtel and Agger won combined.
The Reds have been through spells this season where they have defended stoutly and looked like they were giving themselves a foundation to build from, but that strength and resilience was sorely lacking against Stoke.
More than anywhere else, that was apparent in the aerial battles of course, but in general the Reds were poor at the back, and until they can find some consistency in this area of the pitch, their attempts to reach the top four or six of the Premier League will suffer constant setbacks.
QPR away is up next for the Reds. A quick improvement is needed to ensure the calendar year does not end with three defeats from four matches.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com