Tried to replicate the formation from the 2-0 win against Stoke last season, starting with three center-backs for the first time this season. Didn't work. Tried sending Carroll on for final thirty minutes. Didn't work. Bellamy couldn't change matters either. Another disappointing, frustrating draw at Anfield. Quelle surprise.
Liverpool were actually "better" – a term used incredibly loosely – in September's 0-1 loss at the Britannia. That match saw Liverpool attempt 24 shots with seven on target, only denied at least a draw by Begovic's brilliance. Today, Liverpool had just one shot on target, nine off, and five blocked – 15 in total, eight of which came from outside the area. The one on target – Henderson's tame left-footed effort from distance – couldn't have threatened Sorensen less.
Most importantly, Liverpool were able to get runners from midfield past Kuyt last season. Scoring from a scrambled set-play immediately after half-time opened Stoke up for the second, scored by a speedy striker on the counter. Yes, you know who. For some reason, Henderson, Adam, Gerrard, and Downing rarely got beyond Kuyt today – a striker in name only who often drops deep and who's in horrific form in front of goal this season – let alone behind Stoke's seven (at a minimum) defenders, even though we know all four are capable of doing so.
What was tactically brilliant a year ago was wholly wrong today. Fine margins and so on. The three center-backs completely nullified Stoke, while Johnson and Enrique got forward at will. Stoke had exactly one threatening chance: Etherington shooting straight at Reina from the top of the box on the break in the 24th. If the point of the formation was to nullify Stoke, then hurrah, it was hugely successful. Unfortunately, most aren't content with simple nullification of a side which hasn't scored at Anfield since the early 90s, and that Liverpool kept all three defenders on for 90 minutes will surely provoke a few questions.
Liverpool just couldn't do anything right in attack, no matter its overwhelming superiority in possession, camped in Stoke's half throughout. Again. Liverpool's midfield was ineffective in supporting said worthless attack. And without Agger's ability on the ball, not in the squad after picking up a knock, having three center-backs was far less effective in building the so-called attack.
As in the reverse fixture and against Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea, Wigan, and Blackburn, Liverpool finally dialed up the pressure in the final 15 minutes, aided by Carroll and Bellamy replacing Downing and Henderson. Kuyt headed Liverpool's best chance wide in the 77th, diving to reach Enrique's deflected cross. The same player hit the side netting at the far post six minutes later, while Skrtel unfortunately headed Bellamy's corner down and over the bar in the 86th. Carroll could have had a couple of penalties when barged over by defenders, Kuyt could have had one, but referees rarely give them, especially Howard Webb and especially against Stoke, whose defending relies on that tactic. But that was the extent of it. That Liverpool created so little, even after "dialing up the pressure" is unforgivable. That Liverpool have now drawn seven of 11 home league matches is even more unforgivable. Everyone's culpable. The front five and two attacking substitutions all disappointed, although the usual scapegoats will probably get the most criticism. I have little defense for any of them.
Yes, yes, Stoke are excellent at being Stoke, especially against Liverpool. The fixture pile-up over the last month clearly didn't help either, forcing Liverpool's hands tactically, ensuring Bellamy (and probably Carroll) weren't fit enough to start and with Gerrard far more muted than against either Oldham or City. But this wasn't good enough, and hasn't been good enough for quite awhile. I'm excited to look up the last time Liverpool's home form was so terrible over the first half of a season.
We've been saying the same since August 14. Liverpool need to find a way score more goals, especially at Anfield and especially against sides Liverpool expect to beat. Playing Kuyt up top and three center-backs did not achieve that breakthrough. Bolton away in a week's time before the next chance to rectify that deficiency comes against City for a trip to Wembley.