Johnson Carragher Ayala Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
The future’s a bit rosier today, no?
A four-goal margin of victory, against a side that held Liverpool scoreless twice last season, might be a little more emphatic than Stoke’s performance deserved. But make no mistake, this was a comprehensive victory, easing a few of the worries voiced after Sunday’s dismal affair. Plus, we get to gloat in United’s 0-1 loss at Burnley. Sometimes life is good.
Last season’s match at Anfield could have looked a lot like today’s had the early “goal” by Gerrard been allowed. And it was today’s strike by Torres in the fourth minute, after some lovely build-up between Kuyt, Lucas, and the captain, which sent Liverpool on its way. Lucas to Gerrard, who cut it back from the byline toward the penalty spot, and a Torres goal. No mistake, one-nil, and it took about 200 seconds.
Knowing Stoke would have to come out of their shell after going behind, Liverpool was happier controlling the tempo, giving Stoke a bit more of the ball, but looking able to break the away side at any opportunity. Insua should have added a second in the 21st, released after Lucas sprung Torres on the break following a poor Stoke free kick, but the Argentinean could only prod into the side netting from the striker’s cross.
Stoke had a succession of long throws and free kicks around the half-hour mark, which always worries, but never came close to equalizing. And on the stroke of halftime, from a corner no less, Glen Johnson popped in the penalty box, acrobatically slamming home the rebound from Kuyt’s header with a bicycle kick on his Anfield debut. 2-0, game apparently over.
But a five-minute spell from Stoke to start the second half, including an utterly immaculate save from Reina, almost saw the away side climb back into the game. The Potters did well to keep Liverpool under pressure after winning an early Delap throw, and the third successive corner from it found Delap in the box, whose low effort looked destined for the bottom corner until Reina came to the rescue to push it away.
A dangerous Beattie cross that Johnson had to clear for a corner three minutes later marked the end of that spell as Liverpool returned to dominating the tempo and possession. More and more space opened up as Stoke looked for any means back into the match, and a succession of chances followed. Gerrard forced a save from Sorensen, who almost spilled it onto the feet of Kuyt, in the 54th, Johnson nearly snuck a second inside the near post after cutting in from the right in the 60th, and Sorensen had to palm away a certain Shawcross own goal in the 66th.
Finally, Liverpool got the third that always looked like coming in the 78th after another superb assist from Gerrard, beating Etherington like a rented mule to get into the box and centering for Kuyt to slide home. Both scorer and provider went off the in the 82nd, replaced by Voronin and Riera, as Liverpool cantered to victory. For added gloss, Ngog (on for Torres in the 85th) got the fourth with the last kick after Johnson (again) stormed down the right, with the deflected cross put on a plate for the Frenchman to head home from two yards out.
Today was just what Liverpool needed. In contrast to the last match, everyone was firing on all cylinders. Johnson, Lucas, and Gerrard all stood out for me, but I could compliment something about all the players’ performances. A clean sheet on 18-year-old Daniel Ayala’s debut, a vastly-improved display from Insua, Benayoun was lively throughout, and Torres had much more influence on today’s proceedings.
Lucas was incredibly assured in midfield; I honestly thought he was better than Mascherano, who misplaced a few too many passes that could have been punished by a better team. I thought he and Benayoun played well together; both move around frequently, looking for angles, and Lucas’ mobility meant he was able to compensate when Benayoun drifted inside. Meanwhile, Gerrard had two assists in a rampaging performance where he sought out the ball despite a packed Stoke defense. But we’ve come to expect that sort of thing from him.
However, a goal and assist on your Anfield debut probably assures you the man of the match. Johnson’s already made a huge difference to this team, and has had a hand in three of the five goals scored in two matches. His pace, willingness to run at defenders, and additional attacking presence was a big difference between today’s result and those two draws last season.
Just like it was too early to draw too many conclusions on Sunday, that’s still the case after today. But being able to put a tough team like Stoke to the sword always brightens the day, and it was just the response that Liverpool needed.
Villa at Anfield on Monday