Liverpool 4-0 Stoke City: The Reds Backlash
Tony Pulis warned his team about a Liverpool backlash following their disappointing 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on opening day, and he was right to be concerned.
Against Spurs, he watched a disjointed Reds struggling for form and understanding. It was a team missing Daniel Agger and it saw the other two centre-half options, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel, take each out early in the game, which the two men never really recovered from.
Skrtel was missing from tonight's game as a result, meaning a chance for 18-year-old Spaniard Daniel Ayala at centre-back alongside Carragher. But in truth, the youngster was not likely to be tested in the first half.
Much like last season's encounter at Anfield, Tony Pulis set his team out to stop Liverpool. A brave move perhaps, given the stick managers often get from opponents, pundits, and fans for "parking the bus," but a necessary one nonetheless.
As much as we may admire underdogs that attack the so-called giants, league football is all about points. When you're a manager of a side that's bound to be fighting for survival week in week out, all you have to care about is scoring points however you can. Spoiling games isn't pretty, but it is entirely crucial against teams like Liverpool.
Stoke's 4-5-1 formation was always going to be difficult to break down, and last season Liverpool failed to do so twice. This year was made a little easier though, thanks to the start the Reds were denied, controversially, in this fixture last year.
Lucas and Steven Gerrard linked well all game, with the Brazilian working hard to stamp his name on the team sheet and fill the Xabi Alonso-shaped hole in midfield, before new boy Alberto Aquilani gets his chance, and he saw a rasping 20-yard effort held well by Thomas Sorenson in the opening stages.
A minute or two later, and Lucas again linked with the forwards and set Gerrard on his way, before the skipper sent the ball across to Torres, who finished easily past the stranded Potters' keeper.
Stoke reorganised and set up their brick wall defence once again, and it fell upon the shoulders of another new signing to break the status quo.
Glen Johnson's signing might have left a few "experts" scratching their heads as to Rafa Benitez's thinking, thanks to the price tag and no new cover for Fernando Torres arriving at Anfield. But the former Pompey man displayed exactly what he'll bring to the team, and why he's so much more important than a squad-player striker.
Bursting runs on the right led to most of Liverpool's openings, and Torres and Kuyt both saw chances saved before Johnson hammered a scissor-kick home on 44 minutes to put Liverpool 2-0 up before the break.
Pulis is an excellent and determined old-fashioned manager, and he sent his team out in the second half determined to give as good as they were getting. That instantly put the Reds on the back foot and forced Johnson to clear off the post, as former Everton man James Beattie sent a shot across the area.
But it was Liverpool who took control again with a strong midfield display of South American pairing Lucas and Mascherano, together with Johnson's marauding runs down the right and Benayoun's usual clever and intricate work coming from the left, combining well with young left-back Emiliano Insua.
Twelve minutes from time, Mascherano put Gerrard in behind Stoke and the captain turned sublimely against the floundering Etherington, and then he powered low across the box for Dirk Kuyt to get Liverpool's third. And yet another fine piece of work by Johnson put substitute David Ngog in for his first of the season, and Liverpool's fourth on the night.
Stoke went home empty-handed, but they fought hard. In the end, Liverpool proved too strong and too determined to put the Spurs' result behind them, and with Manchester United losing to Burnley at Turfmoor, Liverpool's disappointing start looks like the small blip that Tony Pulis thought it would be.
The season is long, and Liverpool are up and running.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Ayala, Carragher, Insua, Kuyt (Riera 82), Mascherano, Lucas, Benayoun, Gerrard (Voronin 81), Torres (Ngog 84).
Stoke City: Sorenson, Higginbotham, Faye, Shawcross, Wilkinson, Delap, Whitehead (Pugh 69), Whelan, Etherington, Cresswell (Lawrence 62), Beattie (Fuller 62).
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