Stoke City vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned
One of the more remarkable games of this Premier League season was finally decided by Liverpool's increased quality, as Luis Suarez and the returning Daniel Sturridge secured the Reds the points in a crazy 5-3 win at Stoke.
Liverpool looked as though they were going to easily run away with their first-ever league win at the Britannia Stadium as a Ryan Shawcross own goal and Suarez's opportunist strike put them 2-0 up.
But former Reds players Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam drew Stoke level by half-time, with first a well-placed header and then a stunning strike from the edge of the box as the visitors struggled to deal with the Potters' power.
Fortune then smiled on the Reds as Raheem Sterling won a controversial penalty, which Steven Gerrard converted, with substitute Sturridge then setting up Suarez for a fine finish to make it 4-2.
Jon Walters pulled another one back for Stoke, with Sturridge marking his return to the team from injury by wrapping up the win late on.
Here are six lessons learned from a wet and wild afternoon in the Potteries:
The Return of the SAS Has Come at Just the Right Time
As Suarez has scored goal after goal this winter, it has been easy to forget just how potent Liverpool were earlier in the season.
The return of Sturridge from injury to link up with his strike partner was never going to be uneventful, and sure enough the pair's combination produced Liverpool's fourth and fifth goals to eventually kill off this game just as the Reds appeared to be rocking.
The recent losses at Manchester City and Chelsea combined with the good form of the teams around them has got Liverpool looking nervously around them recently, but with their front two now reunited they have a combination which will be the envy of pretty much all of the teams in the division.
Keep them fit and firing and success will follow.
Liverpool's Defence Could Cost Them This Season
Sure enough they scored five, but that won't happen every week for Liverpool, and they'll need to rely on their defending more and more the longer the season goes on.
Quite frankly, it wasn't good enough.
None of Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure and Glen Johnson won a tackle in the first half, according to Squawka, and none of the usual steeliness that is required whenever you go to Stoke was on show.
In truth much of that can be put down to the sheer craziness of a game which only improved due to the ever-worsening conditions, but the entire back four and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet―whose fine late save from a fierce header aimed at his own goal from Steven Gerrard kind of summed up the day―will need to learn from the afternoon.
Raheem Sterling Was Lucky, but He Showed Maturity
The penalty incident was undoubtedly the key moment of the match, and Liverpool certainly got lucky with a decision which came about following minimal contact by Marc Wilson on Raheem Sterling, who may even have handled the ball in the buildup.
But regardless of the penalty, the winger turned in a mature display on an afternoon which he isn't likely to forget in a hurry.
Constantly wanting the ball and looking to run at his opponents, there was an added intelligence to Sterling's game which showed that he was always looking to be an outlet for his teammates in difficult circumstances.
The return to fitness of Sturridge might put his place under threat, but Sterling deserves to hold on to it.
Stoke Are Going the Right Way Under Mark Hughes
You can never really enjoy a defeat, but you can take lessons away from one, and that is what should comfort Mark Hughes at the end of what was a very good Stoke performance.
The odd bounce of a ball here or, as seen with Suarez's first goal, an increase in concentration levels there would have given the hosts something from this game, and that's without even discussing the fortunate penalty which made it 3-2 to Liverpool.
The loss leaves Stoke in 12th, but only four points above the relegation zone due to the congested nature of the Premier League this season.
But if this campaign has taught us anything, it is that there are certainly at least three teams worse than them, and relegation worries shouldn't be an issue.
The Curse of the Former Player Is Alive and Well
What is it about players scoring against their former clubs?
Both Crouch and Adam revived the age-old tradition here with the strikes which turned Stoke's 2-0 deficit into them going in at the break level, and ultimately the hosts could feel a little unfortunate not to have taken something from the game.
The key question has to be, though: Why did Mark Hughes leave another ex-Red, Jermaine Pennant, on the bench?
Liverpool Have the Character to Last the Pace
The sight of the Reds steamrolling teams at home this season has been a frequent one, whilst of course they also scored five in their victory at Tottenham―their best performance of this campaign.
Wins like this one, though―ugly, difficult wins achieved via a deflected goal, a fortunate penalty and ultimately individual quality―almost count double, and if Liverpool can show that they can dig out these sort of victories more and more often throughout the rest of the campaign then the top-four tilt will be continued.
As for the title? Don't rule it out just yet.