Liverpool narrowly avoided throwing away 2 points with a fantastic double save from Mignolet. New outfield players Aspas and Toure looked solid on their debuts.
For Stoke, the largest talking point heading into the game was whether or Mark Hughes’s tactical alterations would be apparent from the outset of the season. That remains to be seen. Stoke still failed to create many chances from open play: only 4, which was equal to the amount of chances they created from set pieces. Furthermore, Liverpool did in fact play more long balls than Stoke overall. While this may be a product of Liverpool’s higher rate of possession, it undoubtedly indicates that Stoke may well be re-thinking their game plan and relying less on the long ball.
Liverpool’s Movement and Positioning
While in possession, Liverpool’s formation cannot be nailed down as a simple 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. Both of these common formations do have similarities with Liverpool’s system, but a large portion of their tactics were focused on shifting positions and systems for situations in and out of possession.
For example, while in attack, Liverpool typically have Agger and Toure spread out wide into positions normally held by defensive fullbacks. This allows both Johnson and Enrique to get forward as wingers. Gerrard or Lucas will typically drop deep centrally to become the initiator for build-up play. The graph below illustrates how deep their average position ended up, Lucas in particular:
Now, this places a large emphasis on Enrique and Johnson positioning themselves correctly and tracking back to allow the central defenders enough time to close in narrowly. When the ball is lost farther up the pitch, typically both Gerrard and Lucas would pull narrower, and allow Henderson to pressure the ball up top while allowing the defence to find their best positioning.
Agger and Toure pull back centrally while Enrique and Johnson track back and harry wingers.
Another interesting point that can drawn from the graph above is that Coutinho played in quite and advanced attacking position. The graph shows that the Brazilian’s average position roughly matches that of Sturridge in terms of lateral positioning. He had 20 more touches than Sturridge and only one less shot. This would indicate that should Coutinho continue in this same vein of positioning and play style, he could ultimately become an important source of goals this summer for Liverpool.
Stoke’s Movement and Positioning
Peter Crouch was still utilised significantly for his size by Hughes’s side. While this is unsurprising, it was by no means the only task which was given to Crouch. Crouch also had license to roam across the top of the attack, and while he was most commonly in the centre of the attacking third,
For both squads, the centre third of the pitch of hotly contested, and both sides defensive midfielders played important roles. N’Zonzi and Lucas both played a pivotal role for each side as the primary holding midfielders. They each had roughly the same number of tackles, a staggering tally of 9 for N’Zonzi and 8 for Lucas.
Stoke’s evolution seems to be underway, but it also looks as though it will take a significant amount of time. While long throws may no longer play such an enormous role in their arsenal, Stoke still seemed overly reliant on set pieces for chance creation.
For their part, Liverpool looked the opposite. Far too shaky (Mignolet in particular) during set piece defence, but comfortable at a high tempo and ready to create chances. This game could have easily been much higher scoring if Liverpool had just been a touch more deadly in front of goal. It will be interesting to follow their progress and see if they adapt and improve their striking, or become the profligates of the league with a poor conversion rate.