Mansfield vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned as Reds Go Through 2-1
The game was rather different from that which Brendan Rodgers might expect to experience on a week-to-week basis in the Premier League, with the Reds' opponents playing in the fifth tier of English football. But it was nonetheless a game to take a few lessons from.
An early goal from Liverpool settled what could have been a nervy opening, but the Reds spurned several more chances to increase their lead.
Luis Suarez's goal looked to have settled the match before a late consolation for Mansfield. But Liverpool were never really out of control of the game and comfortably saw it out.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
1. Bright Start to His Liverpool Career for New Boy Daniel Sturridge
Liverpool's newest signing Daniel Sturridge has made an impressive first start for the club, playing just under 60 minutes before making way for Luis Suarez.
Sturridge took just seven minutes to score his first goal in Red, linking up well with Jonjo Shelvey before steering a first-time right-footed shot past the goalkeeper to open the scoring.
Given the relative quality of opposition Liverpool were facing, it is difficult to make too many judgements on Sturridge's form, but he certainly looked bright and energetic on his Reds' debut.
His off-the-ball movement was good and he was constantly looking to break in behind the central defenders. But he also worked the right channel well during the first half and could have added at least one more goal to his tally.
It might take him a few weeks to get up to speed and play consistently well for 90 minutes, but Sturridge will certainly give Liverpool a boost in the final third and seems to have settled into the club well.
Just had a chat with Daniel Sturridge, says this is the biggest club he's played for. "I can never repay Brendan Rodgers for this." #LFC— Peter McDowall (@Petermcdowall10) January 6, 2013
2. Usual Issue Costs Liverpool a Few Anxious Moments
After Liverpool scored their opening goal, they had four or five chances to add to their tally over the next 20 minutes. But a combination of shoddy final passes, poor finishing and one or two good saves from goalkeeper Alan Marriott kept them at bay.
It took until Luis Suarez's goal in the second half to look as though victory was assured, and even then when Mansfield Town scored their late consolation, it lifted the players and fans enough to give the Reds a few moments of near panic.
Continuous lofted balls into the box were well-defended by Liverpool, but they possibly didn't need to invite so much pressure onto themselves. Putting one or two more chances away earlier on would have put the game out of Mansfield's reach much earlier. It also would have maybe negated the need for trying to hit them on the counter attack, instead of continuing to control the game, expending more energy and increasing the potential to suffer injury.
The Reds weren't unduly troubled in fairness, though the atmosphere inside the stadium perhaps made it seem as though they were.
3. Good Performance from Brad Jones
With Pepe Reina one of the first-team players afforded a little rest from regular action, Brad Jones came in for another appearance after his prolonged spell in the team earlier in the season.
Jones dealt extremely well with all the high balls, set pieces and long throw-ins which Mansfield hurled his way, in particular when he showed his domination of the penalty area by coming through crowds of players to punch clear.
The Australian goalkeeper has shown great improvement over the past six months and looks a much more confident player when called upon.
He was just about beaten 10 minutes from time with a shot from close range by Matt Green, but made two good saves earlier in the game.
His aerial dominance, though, was what marked him as one of the Reds' best performers.
4. A Run to the Latter Stages of the FA Cup a Possibility Once More
A year ago, Liverpool had to battle their way past Oldham Athletic to progress beyond the third round. This time, the Reds will face the same opposition one round later.
Liverpool ran out 5-1 winners in the end on that occasion courtesy of goals from Jonjo Shelvey, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy. It was the beginning of a run which would see the Reds reach Wembley for a third time last season, where they eventually lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea.
Brendan Rodgers may not lead his team quite that far in his first season in charge, but the Reds will at least have a good chance of reaching the fifth round at a minimum.
The draw for the next round was made shortly before Liverpool beat Mansfield, and the Reds know now that they will travel to Oldham. Last year's tie took place at Anfield.
Oldham play in League One and sit in 19th place, two places and five points above the drop zone.
5. Brendan Rodgers: Reds Showed Character
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers saw his team triumph 2-1 over Mansfield and claimed that his team showed good character to overcome tough circumstances.
While the level Mansfield play at is not what the Reds are accustomed to having to deal with, their method of playing the game, the state of the pitch and the backing of the home crowd made it at times an uncomfortable affair for Liverpool.
Rodgers spoke to the official club website:
It's a big credit to my players; I thought we showed great character. The game could have been out of sight in the first half with the chances we had. But you've also got to give credit to Mansfield because at 2-0 they kept the game alive.
There were periods in the second half where we had to show resilience and character. We've seen it over the years in this competition, the big teams going to away grounds of a lower league opponent and coming unstuck. Big credit to Mansfield and the town today—the supporters were brilliant and made it a proper cup tie. You're never comfortable. Thankfully we got through and into the next round.
The second half might not have been the best display of passing football that the manager will see from his team this season, but they certainly showed enough resilience in defence and commitment to attacking to make sure that Mansfield knew they'd be punished if they slipped up.
Overall, it was a relatively comfortable win for Liverpool, but they were made to work hard to ensure that it was so.
6. Chance to Rest Some Senior Players Ahead of Manchester United Fixture
Rodgers made eight changes to the starting lineup from that which beat Sunderland 3-0 at Anfield in the last Premier League game, which gave the opportunity to a few senior players to take a well-earned rest.
Six wins in the last eight games have been taken by the Reds over the Christmas and New Year period before the Mansfield match, and with several first-team regulars playing almost all the minutes in those league matches. it was no surprise to see a few changes for the FA Cup.
Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina and Daniel Agger were given some valuable rest time for this match while Martin Skrtel remained on the bench throughout.
Only Lucas, Downing and Andre Wisdom started against Mansfield after having begun the match against Sunderland a few days earlier.
The rest for the senior players would have been a nice break ahead of a tough run of fixtures for Liverpool. The Reds now face trips to Old Trafford, the Emirates and the Etihad Stadium in the next month.
Liverpool's recent record now stands at seven wins from the last nine in all competitions—and they will hope that the combination of momentum and rest gives them the best chance of taking a positive result from their next league game at Manchester United on Sunday.