Stoke City 1 – 2 Liverpool
Close shave for Liverpool as Brazilians save Klopp’s blushes
Jürgen Klopp’s critics have castigated him over the years for having no Plan B, no means of winning games when the gegenpressing doesn’t work, no way of overcoming the ‘little’ teams. Results against Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull and others have certainly confirmed the doubts that many, Liverpool supporters included, have about the genial German.
Fans looking at the team sheet for yesterday’s fixture against Stoke City would, therefore, have been utterly stunned. Even without the languid Lallana and mercurial Mané, Liverpool should have been too strong for Stoke, particularly with a fit-again Sturridge and in-form Origi available. So, if Plan A was still available to Liverpool, why did Klopp decide to employ Plan Z: three at the back, wing backs and a 17-year-old up front? Ben Woodburn is a talented boy and he will achieve success in the Premier League, but he’s not the new Michael Owen, and Liverpool fans need to stop thinking he might be.
In Armando Ianucci’s peerless satire on Westminster, ‘The Thick of It’, Malcolm Tucker claims that minister Nicola Murray is ‘like a clown running across a minefield’ as she fumbles her way through a radio interview. Into this simile, step forward the hapless Ragnar Klavan.
To be fair to the Estonian, he was never bought as a first choice defender; a squad player at best, his appearances this season should have been limited. However, given the fragility in body of Joel Matip, and in mind of Dejan Lovren, Klavan has achieved almost ‘regular’ status. How the Liverpool faithful must be pining for the banished Mamadou Sakho.
Klavan’s inclusion always rings alarm bells; that he was part of an untried three man defence simply amplified them. Disaster was bound to ensue, and the fact that Liverpool left the first-half stage only one down was a minor miracle. Stoke’s goal was as simple as it was predictable:
- Klavan skinned and out of position
- Lovren clueless as to how to sort the situation out leaving…
- Walters free to do what he does best – score for fun against Liverpool
Klopp had to do something. So, what does the manager without a plan B do? Simple – he reverts to Plan A. Coutinho (illness) and Firmino (exhaustion) were only deemed fit enough for the bench, but it was their introduction that altered the path of this game.
They replaced teenagers Woodburn and Alexander-Arnold, neither of whom had disgraced himself, but the change in Liverpool was palpable. Whereas Liverpool in the first-half had been amateurish and painfully soporific, the team that emerged in the second-half was crisp and purposeful, running Stoke ragged.
A word at this point about the man-of-the-match, the oft-maligned Simon Mignolet. His point blank save from Charlie Adam was exceptional, preventing Stoke from taking a two goal advantage. His miracle stop in the final moments, flinging out a limb to block Saido Berahino’s goalbound effort, secured three of the most unlikely points Liverpool are likely to win this season.
That win was achieved by Liverpool’s smooth Brazilians who glided about the pitch like Torvill and Dean dancing a Bolero. The goals were exceptional. Coutinho finished clinically from twelve yards after some excellent and intricate work from Emre Can.
The winner, which arrived moments later, was a complete contrast: a lofted hoof out of defence was watched with hawk-like intensity by Firmino. The ball bounced once before the Brazilian unleashed a half-volley of such ferocity and accuracy from twenty yards that Grant, in the Stoke goal, could only stand and stare as the ball almost burst the netting behind him.
Klopp believes the three points are ‘massive’. He’s right, of course, and Liverpool remain in top four contention. Whether the win is down to his tactical genius, or simply a desperate last throw of the dice is the moot point. Whichever, it is clear that Plan A is still Liverpool’s most potent weapon.
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