Walters 21' (pen)
Karma. No one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.
Clattenburg was at the center of it – as is Clattenburg's wont – denying two, possibly three handball penalties. But karma is more encompassing than a handful of potential, contentious game-changing decisions. Only Begovic and Jesus know how Stoke's goalkeeper kept out five successive chances in the 62nd minute or how Suarez spurned a sitter in the last minute of injury time.
Liverpool started well, as they have in every match this season, but Stoke settled far quicker than Liverpool's earlier opponents. Their perpetually rugged style denied and nullified, aided by a pitch allowed to grow ankle-high. And the 21st-minute penalty – soft but understandable (karma again) – gave Stoke the lead and allowed them to park the bus directly in front of goal as they love so much. Carra's poor positioning allowed Walters in behind and in place to tumble a la Bamba on ice, and Clattenburg pointed to the spot post haste.
From there, Liverpool were going to have to dissect an opposition half packed to the brim with defenders, with Walters and sometimes Crouch the lone outlets. And with Liverpool's passing wholly disjointed, especially from Adam, packing the box was always going to be a successful proposition. Chances were few and far between despite overwhelming possession (73-27% by full time), mainly blocked by the six defenders constantly sitting in Stoke's penalty box.
Those numbers committed to defending deep made space incredibly hard to come by, even for the incandescent likes of Luis Suarez. Liverpool's best chance(s) came on a singular moment on the counter-attack, following one of the few occasions where Stoke piled men forward (as they'd won a rare free kick in Liverpool's half). Enrique's perfectly-placed pass found Henderson charging forward without a marker in sight, with all the time in the world to decide how to beat Begovic. Too much time. Hesitating, Henderson tried to place it under the keeper, easily saved, with his first rebound again saved and the second blocked. Adam followed up, seeing his chances first blocked then saved. Wholly implausible. Wholly fitting. Well played Begovic, but Henderson's going to come in for (assuredly overly harsh) criticism for his choices, ignoring the smart run which put in him that position.
Dalglish's changes came in the 68th, replacing Kuyt and Henderson with Bellamy and Carroll. Bellamy impressed, linking up well with Enrique on the left and spurning a good chance when heading wide of the near post in the 88th. Carroll did nothing to earn a reprieve from the nonstop questions, although Liverpool rarely played to his strengths and Stoke's height and multiple defenders limited his impact. And yet Liverpool still should have leveled in the dying seconds when Begovic finally made a mistake, colliding with the awkward Crouch trying to punch a cross clear, but caught flat-footed, Suarez could only shin inches wide. Which seemed a fitting capstone.
If not for Begovic's marvelous magnetic minute, Stoke's groundskeeper would have been the man of the match – narrowing the pitch after the last Europa League game and allowing the grass to grow for the duration of the international break. Long grass prevents pass and move football. Liverpool lives and dies by pass and move football these days.
Today's not a match for the stats nerds. Stoke took 21 fewer shots than Liverpool, scoring with their lone on target from the spot. Stoke attempted just 195 passes, 350 fewer than Liverpool and 121 fewer than any of Liverpool's other league opponents this season. Liverpool had more than double the possession Stoke had. And they still lost. Lies, damned lies, and...
Adam, Liverpool's fulcrum, was poor today, while Suarez, Downing, and Kuyt each had their least-effective games of the season. Credit has to go to Stoke's nullification, as nullification is what Stoke does best and the early penalty allowed Stoke to focus on nullification and nothing more, but Liverpool needs to do better against the bus parkers if they've any ambition of returning to the top tier of the top tier.
Despite how today's match stats show how numbers can lie, two other statistics still stand out. Liverpool haven't won away after an international break since April 2009, with five losses and a draw since. And Liverpool still haven't won under Dalglish after conceding the first goal, again with five losses and a draw since.
There are obvious bright spots which can be taken from the performance; there's no comparison between today's loss and last season's 0-2 shellacking at the Britannia in anything other than the result. But nonetheless, the more things change, the more they still seem to stay the same in too many aspects.