So that’s it, 180 minutes of football against Stoke City FC and we’ve yet to find a solution to breaking them down.
It was game that summed up yesterday’s whether, cold and lifeless. Gerrard hit the woodwork twice and Stoke had their moments, especially from set plays, however, with Alonso being the only key player out, it should have been three points. One has to put things in perspective. It’s only one game but there is so much about last night that was avoidable. It’s a paradox but was Rafa guilty of being over cautious and gambling with his line up? Let’s consider the evidence.
From the first minute it became apparent that Stoke were going to repeat the tactics they employed at Anfield and defend, defend, defend with the odd long throw here and there. Nothing wrong with that, you play to your strengths and, for a team in the position we are, we should have had enough to break them down. Stoke have scored few goals at home, in fact we have scored more away. So why did Rafa leave his most potent attacking players, Torres, Keane and Babel, on the bench in preference to his “deputy head boy” Dirk Kuyt?
Kuyt is many things, industrious, seemingly never short of giving one hundred percent and, I guess, versatile given his stints on the wing and in the centre. He should not be the scapegoat for this result however, he is not a loan striker and his selection in that role is indicative of the bafflement that most Liverpool fans will be feeling about the overall line up. Surely there were better options Robbie Keane, who is equally ill at ease in the loan role, if only because he has the pace to open up defences however, his Chinese Water Torture continues? I’d even venture to suggest that Ngog is a better alternative and then there is Torres who I assume isn’t fit yet.
Perhaps Rafa thought that Kuyt’s physicality would be of use against a Stoke side who, rightly or wrongly, have a reputation for being robust? However, did Rafa really need to fight fire with fire? We needed players to punch holes in their armour, no “punch” is the wrong word, slip cleverly between the chinks, unravel their defences through skill and pace just as we did with Bolton, who adopted the same approach as Stoke, a few games ago. Was Kuyt, love him as I do, the man for such a job? And on his own?
So, if you re going to field a forward line like this then you need to counter act this with some potency in midfield or by, for example, putting Babel on the other wing? However we’ve got Mascherano AND Lucas holding the fort against a side that has only scored approximately a dozen goals at home! Perhaps if Gerrard and Benayoun, I am increasing equating the latter with the phrase “fannying around aimlessly”, had “on” days then things would have different? Even allowing for this you should be able to rely on someone else to step up to the plate and dig us out. Unfortunately that’s a bit difficult when most of the candidates are on the bench over £40m worth!
Stoke needed to be set a test instead of doing that we reacted to them. We were over cautious and rather just go out in play and we gave them too much respect, or was it not enough by leaving our top players out? Whatever the case we seemed to lack balance. I can’t help, thinking that the team we fielded against PSV, with tweaks to accommodate Gerrard, would have been ideal. We had the right mixture of defence Lucas and Maschernao and potency, Keane, Babel, Ngog and Riera. However, Rafa misjudged the moment and, by the time the right players were on the pitch, it was too late. Does this sound familiar?
Yet such is the way of things and, let’s face it, Rafa gets it right more often and not that’s why he is where he is and that’s why I’m sat on the sofa with a laptop! So where does it leave us? Still top by anything to three points to one point when it could have been six. If the Mancs win their three games in hand they will over take. It’s been coming and perhaps Rafa, when these games are due to be played, should start perfecting his “mind game” strategy?
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap, Amdy Faye, Whelan, Etherington (Lawrence 78), Kitson (Pugh 89), Cresswell.
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Griffin, Olofinjana, Tonge, Sonko.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Benayoun (Babel 76), Leiva Lucas, Mascherano, Riera (Torres 60), Gerrard, Kuyt.
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Keane, Plessis, El Zhar.