Liverpool welcomed Stoke City to Anfield in their 36th Premier League game of the season.
Placed between the two legs of the Champions League semi-final against AS Roma, this game was still very important, as the Reds now need to take advantage of any opportunity to win points, points that would eventually see them clinch a top-four spot beyond doubt.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Matip are both out for the season, while neither Emre Can nor Adam Lallana recovered in time to feature in this game. Sadio Mane missed a training session and had reported to hospital due to a minor niggle and was unavailable as well. Jurgen Klopp needed to experiment in order to make the best of the players available. This was the manager’s choice:
Former Liverpool fullback Glen Johnson was left out by Stoke manager Paul Lambert, and Kurt Zouma took his place. Charlie Adam was on the bench, while Joe Allen and Peter Crouch started the game for the Potters.
The First Half
Stoke came strong into the game, playing rather bravely which reflects their dire need for points. They had two corners early on that came to nothing, before Liverpool took control of the game. Stoke still played their lines high, but Liverpool started splitting them open with passes from deep.
With five minutes gone, Jordan Henderson sent a lovely pass that got Mohamed Salah through, one-on-one with Jack Butland. The Stoke ‘keeper got down and Salah produced his now famous chip – wide of the mark. If there’s anything we hadn’t seen at Anfield this season, it’s Salah missing a chance like this.
But Liverpool continued their attacking approach and kept creating chances, while Stoke got more and more physical, and Zouma was lucky not to get booked after 14 minutes for a hard foul from behind on Danny Ings’ knee.
Five minutes later there was a small scare as Loris Karius gave the ball to Crouch, but the defenders dealt with it.
But Stoke were encouraged by that moment. Shortly after, Mame Biram Diouf picked a nice pass to the left for Moritz Bauer who skipped over Gomez’s challenge and rushed down the flank. His cross went to the far post from where Diouf headed into the outside of the net.
Another great chance fell for Liverpool happened in the 21st minute. Firmino sent Salah running and the Egyptian employed Trent Alexander-Arnold who was coming into the box and was through, but the youngster’s first touch was poor and he couldn’t shoot very well. Easy work for Butland in the end.
The visitors immediately responded with a chance of their own. A mistake by Ragnar Klavan got Alberto Moreno out of position and Diouf sent the ball to that flank to Xherdan Shaqiri, who was now free to pick out someone inside six yards, but the Swiss international hit it a tad too strong for Crouch’s long legs to reach.
It should be said at this point that Moreno had a significantly better game than the last time around. He almost resembled himself at the start of this season, rather than the Moreno we’d know before. He was involved in Liverpool’s next attack in the 27th minute, when Firmino made a run to the left wing and the Spaniard found him. Firmino’s cross was poorly cleared by the Stoke defence and it fell rather kindly for Georginio Wijnaldum, whose shot then went slightly wide of the post.
The Reds came close again five minutes later. Butland came out for a long Alexander-Arnold pass that was aimed at Salah, but the Stoke ‘keeper spilled it and Salah picked it up. He tried to cut inside and shoot but Erik Pieters stopped him just outside the corner of the box with a foul. Salah took the free-kick himself, over the wall and almost into the near top corner, but he missed the target by an inch or so.
In the 36th minute Crouch was booked for a foul on Firmino in the middle of the pitch.
With four minutes of the half remaining, Liverpool scored but it didn’t count. Firmino was strong in a duel as he won the ball off Ryan Shawcross on the left side and employed Ings. Ings pulled it back for Wijnaldum whose shot was deflected in such a way that it fell nicely back for Ings, and from a tight angle Ings blasted it into the net. He had already started celebrating when he saw the linesman’s flag high in the air.
A minute later Diouf was booked for an extremely cynical and unnecessary foul on Moreno.
Right before the half-time, there was a huge scare for Jurgen Klopp. Shaqiri was challenged by Henderson, as he got the ball to a teammate he caught the Liverpool captain on the ankle and Henderson stayed down, clutching his leg. After some medical assistance however, he came back into the game.
The Second Half
The game was played on after the break much in the same manner as before. Liverpool mostly dominated, Stoke pushed forward now and again, but the visitors created no more than an occasional half-chance.
As if Liverpool’s central-midfield curse had been extended to their former players, Allen went down by himself in the 47th minute, but like Henderson, he recovered and carried on.
With 50 minutes gone, Salah had a shot off wide of the mark from around 25 yards, and then it was Bruno Martins Indi’s turn to stay on the ground. But unlike Henderson or Allen, it became immediately clear the Stoke defender would not be able to continue. He was therefore replaced by Ramadan Sobhi.
This substitution prompted a shake-up in Stoke’s line-up. Moritz Bauer went from left-sided midfielder to right-back while Zouma slotted alongside captain Shawcross at centre-back. Sobhi went to the left side of midfield. Then the Potters moved to attack.
It didn’t take long for Sobhi to get involved as he danced around Gomez and got into Liverpool’s box, but his cross or shot – whatever it was meant to be – was easily dealt with by Karius.
Within the next few minutes, Salah had his shirt held by Pieters inside the box but it wasn’t given, and Shawcross delivered a cynical blow to the head of Firmino from behind in the middle of the pitch, for which he was penalized, but without a card. Then Sobhi again tried to make something happen and faced Gomez once more, but this time the young defender got the better of him.
As the game went on it seemed at that point the Stoke players were running out of steam a bit, and they started playing a more defensive game, physical right down to the edge of foul and continuously so. Lucky for them, referee Andre Marriner didn’t feel like giving too many fouls at all.
Nothing was given when Salah was held by the wrist by Pieters just outside the box, nor when Bauer brought Ings down inside it a few minutes later.
With 65 minutes gone, Klopp acted. He replaced Alexander-Arnold and Ings with James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne. The formation was now mostly 3-5-2, with Clyne and Moreno as the wing-backs and Milner slotting in with Wijnaldum and Henderson behind Salah and Firmino.
Lambert used the same moment to take off Crouch (applause at Anfield) and send on Darren Fletcher (boos around the stadium). Shaqiri now moved forward next to Diouf as Stoke kept their 4-4-2.
Then Liverpool pushed forward hard.
Employed by Moreno, Salah had a shot blocked. A long diagonal from the back by Klavan found Clyne inside the box, but the newly recovered right-back couldn’t control his header properly which made Butland’s work easy. Moreno whacked one from 30 yards and missed the target by a few.
With 15 minutes to go the Spaniard produced a fantastic cross, inviting the run of Mo Salah to the edge of six yards, but Zouma managed to get there first and almost scored an own-goal. Three minutes later he was stopped by a two-footed (albeit on the ball) tackle by Badou Ndiaye and both players required medical assistance.
In the 84th minute it was Virgil van Dijk’s turn to whack one from range but his shot was deflected wide of the target. Three minutes later, there was a strong penalty appeal and it seems Marriner made a big mistake by not giving it as Wijnaldum’s cross hit the trailing arm of Pieters. From every angle it looks like the Stoke left-back deliberately took his time in moving his arm out of the way, intending for the ball to hit it in order not to fall for Firmino or Moreno, either of which could have easily scored.
How is this NOT a pen @IrishRed11 @BenWebbLFC @milkys_place @KingKennyStand @Kamara2R @LFCStanleyHouse @SuePeace1 @Henry14Kay @Rachel_BeBe30 @MikeHassey_LFC @ShadowLFC @LFCNev @BlazeGerrard @paulgtrainer @FlorianLFC @smtm_LFC @davekennedy6 @daveashy @YNWA_Claire @LukeAFoley ??? pic.twitter.com/rAcZQwWe7b
— Rich R (@RJRemedios) April 28, 2018
The one given to Roma against Milner was far less a penalty than this one, but Marriner and his assistant remained silent.
A minute later van Dijk stopped a counterattack with a foul and the referee whipped the yellow card out sharply. Although it happened in the middle of the pitch, the free-kick resulted in a huge chance for Stoke to walk away with all three points.
It was taken long, aimed slightly to the left side around the edge of the box, where Zouma won the header and sent it to Diouf. Diouf chipped the ball over Karius towards the far post where Shawcross very nearly turned it in, but he couldn’t direct it where he wanted to and it went wide.
There were six minutes of injury time, during which the Reds had a few more attempts. Van Dijk tried from range again, Wijnaldum headed a good Milner cross over the bar, Salah was crowded out inside the box once or twice, and in the end Firmino fell down inside the box after a tussle with Pieters, but nothing was given and the ball went out of play. As Butland took the goal-kick long, Marriner blew the final whistle.
It can hardly be called a good result, although the performance wasn’t all that bad, to be honest, especially given the circumstances – the Champions League commitments and the injuries. It should be said that Stoke really gave it everything they had and for that effort alone, they maybe deserved their point. Liverpool are left to rue Salah’s inexplicable miss, Trent’s poor first touch and Marriner’s decision not to give a penalty for Pieters’ handball.
The table still doesn’t look too bad regarding top four placement. If by some chance Swansea beat Chelsea this evening, it will be secured. If not, a draw at Stamford Bridge next week will do it.
But now – let’s go to Rome on Wednesday and stamp that ticket to the Champions League final.
We walk on.