Thursday, 20 August 2009

Liverpool 4 - Stoke City 0

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

fter the disappointment of both the result and performance at White Hart Lane on Sunday, it was critical that the first home game was exploited to the full by a Liverpool side who have, in all honesty, struggled for form throughout the pre-season period as well. Rafael Benitez made two changes to the starting line-up, the replacement of Skrtel by Daniel Ayala a forced one thanks to the head injury that the former picked up in the challenge with Carragher, with Yossi Benayoun also replacing Ryan Babel after his successful introduction against Spurs. The Anfield crowd seemed to respond to the defeat, being in full voice to give their encouragement to the team against a side they had failed twice to break down last season.

The volume had the desired effect as Liverpool began at a pace akin to that which had been evident at the beginning of the home leg versus Real Madrid in last seasons Champions League encounter at Anfield. A neat passing triangle soon found the ball to send Steven Gerrard running at the Stoke defense, but the skipper was unable to find the required final ball. When Gerrard again made a clever run round the side of the defense, his cross cannoned off Faye straight to Lucas on the edge of the penalty area. He made a clean contact with the ball but was unfortunate to drive it straight into the arms of Sorensen. Stoke had set themselves up to defend in two banks of four, almost inviting Liverpool to attack and break them down. This proved a flawed plan with just four minutes gone as Torres put Liverpool one-nil up.

Gerrard was again the instigator as he picked the ball up ten yards outside the area. He played a neat one-two with Lucas and, despite not hitting the ball across the box as cleanly as he may have liked, it proved not to matter as it fell into the path of the Spanish goal-machine who stroked home from around ten yards out past a helpless Sorensen.

This prompted Stoke to begin to show a little more adventure in their play, forcing a corner after a challenge by Ayala, who was showing no nerves on his debut start for the first team. The corner was easily dealt with, though, and again Liverpool came forward with a decent counter-attacking move. The first bad foul of the game came shortly after, with Dean Whitehead going in for a late challenge on Javier Mascherano which left the reds man lying on the turf in some distress, the Stoke player receiving a yellow card for his efforts.

As the Stoke supporters launched themselves into another irrelevant and inexplicable chorus of the Tom Jones classic ‘Delilah’, Liverpool again came forward with Kuyt finding Glen Johnson with a throughball as the full back made an overlapping run outside him. He took the ball into the penalty area and was looking for a slide rule pass across the goal to find the waiting Torres, but Sorensen was able to get down and smother the ball before to snuff out the danger. Soon, however, it was Liverpool who again went close from a counter attack of their own.

As a Stoke set-piece move from the training ground broke down, the ball fell to Dirk Kuyt on the edge of his own area. He moved forward at speed before finding Fernando Torres racing down the right flank. His cross almost found Kuyt in the box before it dropped to Insua at the far post, but the youngster was unable to control his effort as the ball skipped off the turf and it went just wide of the post. Reina was soon forced to make his first save of the game as a trademark long throw in from Rory Delap was glanced goalwards by Ayala. Fortunately for the youngster, it was directed straight into the waiting arms of the Liverpool keeper. Insua then went on another run down the left and he was found by a perfectly weighted ball from Mascherano. He controlled on his chest and burst into the box, striking a left foot shot that was fired at the Stoke keeper from a narrow angle.

The only real threat from Stoke was coming from the Delap ‘quarterback’ throw-ins which arrowed into the Liverpool area. The reds defence was coping well with the danger, however, with Reina, Carragher and the impressive Ayala dealing with the majority of these situations easily. A ridiculous dive from Faye conned the referee into awarding a freekick to Stoke, and from the resultant kick the ex-bluenose James Beattie was unmarked in the area. His free header went easily within reach of Reina though in a mimic of his form during his spell at Goodison.

Liverpool’s head wound curse struck again as the first half entered its last ten minutes. A cross from Carragher found Torres challenging Shawcross at the back post, and the Spaniard came off worst with a nasty gash above his eye. The ‘stitch tally’ was raised by ten more as Torres was forced off the pitch for treatment, to re-enter the fray several minutes later. After his re-appearance, and with just a minute to go until half time, Liverpool gained a two goal cushion to effectively put at end to any realistic hopes that Stoke may have had. Torres went on a jinking run into the box and his shot deflected off Faye for a corner to the reds. As Gerrard crossed into the area, the ball was put behind for a second corner, and the captain’s repeat ball found Kuyt unmarked in the middle. His header was parried on the line by Beattie, but the rebound went in the air and Glen Johnson, on his home debut, performed a scissor kick which left Sorensen no chance and almost burst the net.

The reds deserved their two goal lead at half time, having been easily superior to their visitors particularly in the attacking stakes. Stoke had relied on winning freekicks and throw-ins around the Liverpool area but defensively, the home side had shown far more composure than in the previous fixture. Benitez saw fit to leave the side unchanged for the start of the second half, even with Torres sporting a large bump where his earlier injury had been sustained.

It was Stoke who came out the better of the two sides, however, and when Ayala headed a corner only marginally over his own crossbar, the subsequent cross came in and was glanced out to Delap lurking near the penalty spot. His effort was goalbound until Pepe Reina pulled out a stunning save, getting down to his left with lightning reactions to deflect the effort away from danger. This was easily Stoke’s best chance of the game, and the disappointment at failing to peg Liverpool back seemed to again send them into their shells. From this point on, Liverpool began to re-establish their dominance with some crisp passing movements. A shot from Gerrard almost fell to Kuyt after Sorensen’s save, and Johnson began to get forward with more frequency than he had done previously. Liverpool were fully in control of the midfield, with Lucas and Mascherano looking comfortable on the ball and spraying the ball wide at every available opportunity. A great ball from Benayoun found another foray forward from Johnson, who cut inside the covering full back and squeezed a left footed shot off, leaving Sorensen to get down quickly to tip it round the post.

A chorus of boos greeted Beattie’s replacement by Ricardo Fuller, although it was unclear whether the reds fans were noisy just because he used to play for Everton or whether they wanted him to stay on the pitch, having had so little impact on the game. Liverpool were cutting through the massed ranks of Stoke with apparent ease at this point, and soon a cross from Dirk Kuyt glanced off the head off Shawcross and Sorensen was forced to tip over his own bar. The reds pushed and pushed for the next ten minutes without any clear cut chances being created, but on 78 minutes the Liverpool captain provided the highlight of the evening. After a lengthy spell of passing and movement outside the Stoke area, Javier Mascherano chipped the ball forward looking for Gerrard. In one movement, the skipper controlled and turned through 270 degrees in one move to leave his marker standing, and he slid across the goal for the waiting Kuyt to tap home. A standing ovation soon followed as Gerrard was replaced by Voronin, and Riera also came on for Kuyt.

Ngog replaced Torres soon after, with Liverpool completely in control of the match, and the Frenchman soon made his mark in injury time following some more excellent play from man-of-the-match contender Glen Johnson. The debutant’s cross was deflected towards goal and Sorensen was forced to scramble back having come off his line in anticipation of the centre. He was only able to palm the ball weakly back into the path of Ngog, who still almost managed to miss, heading against the underside of the crossbar and into the net with no challenge anywhere near him.

The final whistle went without further incident, leaving Liverpool to savour a good win. Following the result at Spurs, hopefully an anomalous one, this performance showed the capabilities of the reds side, and it is to be hoped that this signifies a more confident approach which should see us able to avoid repeats of some of the stupid draws at Anfield last season. If we take a ‘glass half full’ approach, it could be said that we are better off by two points than last season, having lost to Spurs away and only drawn at home to Stoke, although only the eternal optimists among us will imagine this to be indicative of our title chances. Credit where it’s due, though, this was a sound team performance which was fully deserving of the margin of victory, and we can proceed with confidence into the coming fixture against Aston Villa on Monday night. Performances from Ayala, Lucas, and in particular Johnson and Gerrard were outstanding, and may point to the team settling down and playing the type of football that Liverpool are capable of.

Match time and date: KO 20:00. 19 August 2009
Goals: Torres 5, Johnson 45, Kuyt 78, N'Gog 90
Yellow cards: Stoke Whitehead.
Referee: P Walton (Northants).
Attendance: 44,318.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina (7); Johnson (9), Carragher (7), Ayala (6), Insua (7); Mascherano (8), Lucas (7); Kuyt (7) (Riera (5), 82), Gerrard (8) (Voronin (5), 82), Benayoun (7); Torres (8) (Ngog (5), 85). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Babel, Kelly, Dossena.

Stoke City (4-5-1): Sorensen (7); Wilkinson (6), Abdoulaye Faye (6), Shawcross (6), Higginbotham (5); Etherington (4), Delap (5), Whitehead (4) (Pugh (4), 70), Whelan (5), Cresswell (4) (Lawrence (4), 62); Beattie (5) (Fuller (4), 62). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Griffin, Cort, Kitson.

No comments:

Post a Comment