Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Riera
It was exactly what was feared. When the best you can say was at least Liverpool didn’t lose, against a team many tip for relegation, it’s not a good day at the office.
It’s bad, bad déjà vu reminiscent of the draw against Birmingham early last season, except the strike force was Torres and Keane instead of Kuyt and Voronin. Plus the added stomach punch of a good goal wrongly ruled out before some fans were in their seats.
Liverpool should have been up within two minutes, and it should have been Gerrard’s 100th goal. Sonko fouled Torres on the left, and Gerrard’s free kick ended up in the back of the net just like Alonso’s first against Derby last year. However, the linesman flagged for offside, even though no other player got a touch and it was questionable whether anyone was even past the last man when the ball was kicked.
Despite that, it did look only a matter of time. Liverpool utterly dominated possession – Stoke had one real chance at goal, when Alonso gave the ball to Kitson in the 5th minute, only for the striker to blast over – and Keane again should have opened his account in the 8th, but his first-time shot was straight at Sorenson.
It didn’t take long for chances to become harder to come by. Aside from Alonso’s lovely curler that was palmed away in the 29th, Liverpool rarely worked the keeper. The shots that the home side furnished came mainly from distance, and in the first half, Alonso had more of them than the two strikers combined. That’s not a recipe for success against a team like Stoke.
The away fans started singing, “It’s just like watching Brazil,” in reference to Stoke’s yellow and blue kit. I felt like I was watching Arsenal. And that’s not a compliment.
Frustrating doesn’t even come close to summing it up. Facing a side willing to park all 11 men in their own half isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. And Liverpool simply could not break Stoke down.
All too often, the team was content with shots from distance, and no one could summon much accuracy. 30 shots, six on target. That could be the start and finish of this match review. At the same time, the crossing was atrocious (with Dossena especially guilty), and Stoke’s big defenders usually out-muscled Torres and Keane when the balls were on target. Liverpool had 19 corners – nineteen! – and not a single one caused problems.
The home side had a few better chances in the second half than in the first, with Sorenson again saving a shot Keane should have buried, Kuyt getting two opportunities within 30 seconds around the 67th, and Torres heading over, ricocheting a left-footed shot off a defender, and turning Griffin only to shoot high. But the script stayed the same. Babel (for Riera) and Benayoun (for Keane) were brought on, but neither could change proceedings as they have in the past.
No one can walk away happy with their performance today, but today’s display will probably galvanize those already opposed to Kuyt. And I’ve got no defense. His first touch was gash, he spurned chances he should have scored (not that he was the only one), and that Liverpool struggled to link midfield and attack falls partly on his shoulders.
Even though the attack wasn’t good enough, Liverpool still had the requisite chances to win. You can try and explain it away as bad luck, but the team simply wasn’t good enough, and nowhere near accurate enough. When you have the amount of shots Liverpool had, even with most coming from distance, things happen when you test the keeper. Liverpool never tested Sorenson enough, and lacked the ideas and creativity needed to break down a defense like this. And that’s after adding players like Torres, Keane and Riera in the last year.
The worst part about it is we’ve been here before. And after the encouraging moments over the past week, despite Liverpool not scoring as much as they should, it’s even more disappointing. Now Liverpool's got the same amount of points as if they'd only drawn United and beaten Stoke at Anfield like they should have.