Liverpool vs. Stoke: 6 Things We Learned
The Reds dominated the Potters for the vast majority of the match and would likely have had a huge lead in hand were it not for some incredible saves made by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
However, it would be Liverpool's new goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, who would earn the biggest cheer on the day when he saved Jonathan Walters' penalty in the final minutes to give the Reds their first win of the season.
It was a frantically fast match, played with great intensity and emotion, and naturally it brought about plenty of key talking points. Read on to see some of the biggest lessons learned in Liverpool's streaky 1-0 win.
Coutinho Is Primed for a Big Year
Having moved from Inter Milan to Liverpool over the January transfer window last year, Liverpool fans were very excited to see what youngster Philippe Coutinho could do in his first full season at the club.
And if his opening performance against Stoke is anything to go by, then it should be some year indeed!
Coutinho was superb on the left flank of the Reds' attack and was a constant threat throughout. He was fluid in his movement and linked well with the likes of Iago Aspas and Daniel Sturridge—creating several goalscoring chances and many other smooth interplays.
Had Liverpool been more clinical, Coutinho would have finished with a stack of assists (and probably goals) to his name. Yet still, it was an incredibly impressive performance from the young attacker, who will no doubt be a real focal point of Brendan Rodgers' attack system throughout the season.
Asmir Begovic Is, Too... in a Different Way
Stoke City had few highlights throughout their opening fixture for the season, but they will once again be extremely thankful for the brilliance of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Begovic—who was actually linked with a move to Anfield this summer, according to Jamie Sanderson of the Metro—was stellar last year for Stoke and showed no signs of rust here. He made several brilliant saves against the likes of Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho and again signaled his intent to be one of the English Premier League's most effective (and underrated) goalkeepers.
The shot-stopper will likely see plenty of action this season (if Stoke's performance here is anything to go by), but the Potters are certainly in good hands at the back.
It appears Jack Butland will be required to wait in the wings for a little longer than perhaps expected. Begovic is clearly deserving of the No. 1 jersey for the time being and was arguably the best player on ground—even though he was on the losing team.
Smart Signings Make All the Difference
Brendan Rodgers spent a total of £22 million signing Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. He spent another £16.5 million on signing Iago Aspas and Simon Mignolet, according to Transfermarkt, and after watching those four players take on Stoke this weekend, you'd have to say that he's done very well in his transfer dealings.
Coutinho—as mentioned—was simply brilliant on the left and central parts of Liverpool's attack and was the toughest player to mark throughout the match. Aspas was superb—as was Mignolet, who despite making some early mistakes, more than made up for them with some incredible reflex saves. Sturridge made it another goalscoring day for the Reds, which as the statistics show, continue to be fundamental to Liverpool's attack and subsequent success.
And while those four players are not what you'd consider to be "world-class" players just yet, they are all incredibly important and strong players in their respective position.
I like Liverpool's identity under Rodgers - few would get Coutinho playing like this in this era. All thanks to Rodgers' system— Carlo Garganese (@carlogarganese) August 17, 2013
Rodgers has done an impressive job at signing players for very reasonable amounts of money, seeing talent when it's in front of him, and then ensuring that those players have been given every chance. For a club that doesn't necessarily have the transfer kitty that Chelsea or Manchester City might have, Rodgers has done very well to make the Reds' squad competitive once more and able to challenge the top clubs.
Slowly but surely, he's showing that "smart money" can challenge "big money."
If Suarez Is Staying, Who's Missing Out?
While nobody really knows what's going to happen with the Luis Suarez transfer saga, it appears more likely that the striker will remain at Liverpool than he will leave the club this summer.
And while that's obviously fantastic news for Reds fans, the question then must become: Which players are going to miss out on regular starting appearances as a result? For while Rodgers is clearly capable of mixing the team up and giving guys lots of different chances, the reality is that Liverpool are now at a position where they have a number of very strong attackers who all deserve time on the pitch.
Between Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Henderson, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Raheem Sterling, the Reds have a slew of attacking opportunities to work with this season, and it will be interesting to see how Rodgers juggles a relatively newfound difficulty in his team.
Will he opt to focus particular players on, say, the FA Cup or Carling Cup? Will he simply stick with his team and let the players compete for starting time that way?
Either way, it's a nice problem to have if you're Brendan Rodgers.
Are the Potters Capable of Staying Up This Year?
At the start of the season, I made two bold predictions, and they'll both be covered in these next two slides.
The first is that I can't see Stoke City avoiding relegation this year.
The Potters were very good in parts of this game, but they simply weren't capable of shutting down the creativity that Liverpool offered in attack. Their defense—which was their lone highlight last season—wasn't capable of pressing high against the fluid movement that Coutinho and Aspas provided, and it was little surprise to see that the Reds' first goal came about because the defense hung off Sturridge too long.
Had it not been for a world-class performance from Begovic, the scoreline would have read four or five goals to Liverpool, and it's only natural to wonder whether the shot-stopper is capable of producing that kind of performance week in and week out. Stoke can ill-afford to leave it all up to their goalkeeper to keep them in matches all the time, yet one fears that's the road they're going down this season.
Their attack doesn't seem to be improved at all from last season—where they couldn't score unless it was a set-piece situation—and as a result, Mark Hughes' men could be in for a very long year. It might not be relegation (time well tell), but it certainly won't be a mountain of success either.
Hard to see this team being all that competitive this season.
Is a Top Four Finish All That Unrealistic?
The second bold prediction I made at the start of the season was that Liverpool—even without Suarez in their lineup—are still very capable of making the Top Four this season. And after watching their attacking creativity this week, that prediction doesn't necessarily seem as far off as first thought.
Liverpool's attack is clearly going to be very fluid and dynamic this season, and if Brendan Rodgers can figure out the best starting side out of the slew of options available to him, this team is certainly capable of being a very tough opponent to some of the Premier League's more fancied teams.
Assuming they keep Suarez this summer, the Reds' attack will only get stronger than it was today, with their mountain of potential goalscoring chances more likely to finish in the back of the net.
Their defense has always been relatively solid—especially at home—thanks to their high possession percentage and could very well lead them to success in 2013. After all, even without all of their signings, they still created more goalscoring opportunities than any other team in Europe.
Imagine what they could do with their new additions, then, this year.
1 - The last time Liverpool won on the opening day (1-0 v Sunderland in 2008-09) they went on to finish as runners-up. Repeat?— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 17, 2013
Definitely worth watching out for.
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