Liverpool 0 Stoke 0: Lessons learned from a tight Anfield clash
What did we learn from Liverpool and Stoke City's dour goalless Premier League draw at Anfield on Saturday afternoon?
Charlie Adam is a poor man’s Xabi Alonso
Charlie Adam’s Liverpool career so far was summarised in the 12th minute at Anfield. The Scotland international struck a beautiful first-time ball which found Steven Gerrard on the right wing and the former Blackpool captain surged forward to support his skipper. But when Gerrard squared it back to the former Rangers star, Adam lost possession with a careless pass easily intercepted by Jonathan Woodgate, ending a promising Liverpool attack. The 26-year-old cost Kenny Dalglish a reasonable £7m – in contrast to the £10.75m Rafael BenÃtez paid for Xabi Alonso in 2004 – and the Scot is the closest Liverpool have come to replacing the World Cup winner. And while Adam can hit a pass to rival Alonso, he lacks the Real Madrid midfielder’s consistency.
Jonathan Walters continues to impress at Stoke
Stoke offered little going forward with Peter Crouch left isolated on his return to Anfield. And while the tall striker left no impression on the game, it was his team-mate Jonathan Walters who looked most lively as he eased the pressure on his defence with a number of promising runs into the Liverpool half. The Republic of Ireland international has sparkled this season, with an eye-catching performance for Ireland against Estonia in November and was vital for Stoke on Saturday, providing a constant outlet to relieve mounting Liverpool pressure. Meanwhile, his compatriot, Glenn Whelan, endured a difficult 90 minutes with an underwhelming display.
Kenny Dalglish and his tactical innovations
Dalglish, who showcased his tendency to revert to unorthodox formations at Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final midweek, opted for a five-man defence with Glen Johnson and José Enrique pushing forward to offer support to Liverpool’s midfield. And while the wing-backs saw plenty of the ball, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing were inclined to drift infield to provide space for Enrique and Johnson hampering Downing’s display. The Reds boss hoped the movement of Downing, Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt would lure Stoke’s defence out of position but Tony Pulis’ side maintained a solid line to frustrate Liverpool’s attempts to break the deadlock. Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy were introduced as second half substitutes as Dalglish threw caution aside with his first-half tactics ultimately failing.
SebastiÃ¡n Coates could become the new Sami Hyypia
Sami Hyypia’s departure in 2009 heralded the end of a great Liverpool defensive partnership between the Finnish centre-half and Jamie Carragher. His move to Germany and Carrahger’s ageing limbs have given Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel with a chance to forge a new centre-half pairing which has excelled this season. However, SebastiÃ¡n Coates put forward his own case to start on a regular basis with a confident performance against Stoke on Saturday. The Urguayan, who was named the best young player at Copa América, looked assured in possession, distributed the ball sensibly, while coping with Stoke’s aerial threat. Admittedly, Peter Crouch’s movement is not reflective of the trickier customers Coates will come up against in future but it was a solid performance from Hyypia’s successor.
Are Stoke the most difficult team to beat outside the top six?
The Potters have earned a reputation as one of the most formidable teams in the top flight, particularly at the Britannia Stadium. Pulis has created a side which is very well organised, with their defence boasting uncompromising characters such as Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross. The visitors were content to defend deep and allow Liverpool to play attractive football in front of Thomas Sorensen’s box before snuffing out any prospect of the Reds breaking past their defensive line. But the absence of Luis SuÃ¡rez was glaring. The Uruguayan’s trickery was the missing ingredient as Liverpool failed to break down Stoke’s back four.