Date: 5th January 2013 at 9:00am
Written by:

LIVERPOOL were the latest side to suffer the Britannia (Boxing Night ) blues after a manic opening 12 minutes condemned them to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Stoke City.

Brendan Rodgers fielded an unchanged side from the 4-0 home victory over Fulham but could not replicate the free flowing attacking prowess of the previous game.

Rodgers set out with wingers Downing and Suso playing on their weaker side, hoping they would be able to cut infield and exploit Stoke’s static defence. However, Liverpool failed to take advantage of a black hole between the home side’s midfield and back four, leaving Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez isolated for large periods of the match.

Liverpool once again prevailed in every area of play other than fouls made. However, they were unable to capitalise on their dominant possession and surprising aerial success rate against a Stoke side famous for its quality heading.

Passing success: 84%, Aerial success 52% and Possession 62%

The team had a total of 17 shots 4 of which were on target and a further 6 went off target.

The Reds scored their only of the match after just two minutes when Luis Suarez was fouled in the area, giving Steven Gerrard the chance to put his side ahead from the penalty spot. An uncharacteristic long ball from Liverpool found Suarez on the right wing and the little number 7 battled with Stoke captain, Ryan Shawcross, before the recently capped defender tugged on his opponent’s shirt. Suarez rightly went down for his side’s only Premier League penalty so far this season and Gerrard made no mistake with his ruthless bottom left-hand corner finish.

Stoke’s remarkable home form was mentioned prior to the match and the decibel level inside the Britannia stadium clearly raised the players’ performance after the away side went ahead. However just two minutes after the Reds took the lead, Stoke were level.

Daniel Agger played Kenwyne Jones far too deep, allowing the Stoke number 9 to rattle the Dane enough to head backwards to Jon Walters following a long ball from the Stoke defence. The 29-year old forward was left with just Martin Skrtel to beat and when the Slovakian slipped on the greasy turf, he was clean on goal. Walters made his side foot finish past Reina look easy and turned towards the Stoke crowd to celebrate: 1-1.

The Potters’ second goal came from a training ground plan by their manager Tony Pulis. The 6ft 2 Trinidad & Tobago international, Jones, was placed on the near post for a 12th minute corner. The lofty striker leapt highest and headed the ball down into the net, leaving Reds defenders in his wake.

Despite what the statistics suggest, Stoke’s forwards seemed to dominate the Liverpool back line when it came to aerial battles. Kenwyne Jones played a similar role to that of Christian Benteke during Aston Villa’s 3-1 success at Anfield, holding up the ball with ease. Meanwhile, the support he received from Jon Walters gave Stoke a doubly dangerous attack.

Long balls, were a problem for the Liverpool defence all day. Jones caused distress for the likes of Skrtel and Agger, sometimes tempting both players to try and deal with his threat at once. This allowed space for the Stoke midfielders bombing forward, meaning there were numerous options to develop their attack.

Liverpool were subject to a taste of their own medicine as Stoke pressed the ball high up the pitch, giving the Reds’ defence little time to find an out ball. There were many periods of sustained pressure from the Potters’ attacking players which led to many loose balls being played into the heart of Liverpool’s half. Stoke midfielders would often benefit from these stray passes and proceed to either play the long ball into Jones or consider a wide option which might make room for a cross into the area.

Stoke City Football Club are famous for…

You got it! Long throw-ins from full-backs Wilkinson and Cameron were a nuisance to the away side all night. Liverpool dealt well with the initial attempts of Stoke’s ping-pong like tactic which has proved so fruitful in recent seasons. However, in the wake of the second-half, the Reds were sieged when Wilkinson’s 20-yarder went for a ‘touchdown’ after Kenwyne Jones collected the ball neatly before Jon Walters completed his brace with a clinical strike.

There is also this question now about the fact we struggle against big, physical forwards – see Fellaini, Benteke, Kenwyne Jones in recent weeks. The question being that if Skrtel and Agger aren’t playing up against these types of players in training, they struggle when challenged in a game.

Once again, Luis Suarez played brilliantly and probably deserved to get at least one goal. The Reds’ attackers managed seven more shots on target than their opponents and found space in behind the stiff Stoke formation.

Jonjo Shelvey and Steven Gerrard often found themselves able to roam the Stoke half from the centre circle onwards but weren’t clinical enough when it came to their final ball to provide Liverpool with a strong platform to score from. This meant that time was on Stoke City’s hands as their midfield dropped back to crowd out the Liverpool attackers and drown their attempts of a crucial strike pass or strike on goal.

This left Luis Suarez extremely isolated with his support, in the form of Stewart Downing and Suso, too slow to get alongside him. Rodgers tried to put this right at half-time with the introduction of young Raheem Sterling. Although other than a well-worked square ball from the 18 year old in the opening minutes of the second half, there was little to show for the substitution.

To start young Suso and again sub him is poor management. This isn’t Suso’s fault, far from it. But Everton and Stoke have a lot in common; both are strong, physical sides. Yet Suso started both and was subbed at half-time in both. Learning from mistakes? Clearly not.

The Reds’ boss brought Jordan Henderson and Joe Cole into the frame later in the half, hoping that a repeat of their Upton Park heroics may have been on the cards. However, it was not to be as Liverpool were consistently halted by the Stoke back four.

Liverpool will be disappointed to, once again, be coming away from Staffordshire without the three points. I think the team will not be getting Christmas Day off again anytime soon.

Follow me on Twitter @MRSSG

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