The last time these two met at the Britannia, Liverpool were in chaos. Still under the leadership of Roy Hodgson, with Fernando Torres up front and Kyrgiakos still giving the fans nightmares, Liverpool’s season before Dalglish looked bleak. And indeed, shipping two goals to goal shy Stoke would signal to most teams that their season wasn’t completely on the right track. But while Liverpool turned it around, and Stoke cruised during the second half of the season, for one wonderful evening in November, Stoke fans celebrated their first win over Liverpool in over 20 years.
Britannia Stadium, Stoke
Attendance – 27,286
Referee – Mark Halsey
Stoke City – Begovic; Huth, Collins (Yellow), Shawcross, Wilkinson; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Jones (Goal), Fuller (Yellow). Subs – Walters (Goal) for Fuller, Wilson for Etherington.
Liverpool – Reina; Johnson, Skrtel (Yellow), Kyrgiakos, Carragher; Maxi, Kuyt, Gerrard, Meireles, Leiva (Red); Torres (Yellow). Subs – Babel for Maxi, Ngog for Meireles.
Sometimes it seems that I can copy and paste Stoke’s stats from one article to the next. This time, there are perhaps one or two surprises. Stoke never dominate possession against a team above them in the league, and this trend continued, Liverpool with 60% to Stoke’s 40%, whilst also completing a much higher percentage of passes (70% – 57%) and having 10 more accurate throw ins (23 – 13).
It’s always in defence where Stoke shine, but this time around, Liverpool matched them in nearly every category. Whilst Stoke made 15 successful tackles to Liverpool’s 12, and lost possession less than half the number of times Liverpool did (20-7); the reds were successful in more possession duels (52-47) and perhaps surprisingly, won more aerial duels (18-16).
Up front, the game was lacking in goal mouth action – Stoke managed 4 shots on target to Liverpool’s 3, the figures moving to 9-7 if you include shots that were off target. Stoke also overcame Liverpool in terms of the number of chances created – creating 6 more than Hodgson’s charges, 13-7.
Liverpool made 302 successful passes to Stokes 164, whilst in terms of crosses; Liverpool only made 2 successful ones to Stokes 5. Stoke made more final third passes – 66 to 55, while Liverpool made over double the number of defensive half passes (204-80) and Stoke were successful in 37 long passes to Liverpool’s 34 – all but signalling the end of people calling them long ball merchants.
Don’t get me wrong, this was no smash and grab affair like I so often accuse Stoke of, they obviously deserved this win against a top team in Liverpool. As is so often the case, the only statistic that matters in the end is who scores the most – and it’s that which keeps the owners and fans happy.
This weekend could see the debuts of three new Stoke players –Crouch, Palacios and Jerome. If you follow me on twitter, and you should, then you’ll already know my feelings on these three players. The arguments for these players to be successes at Stoke are well documented – they’ll fit in, great team players etc., but I cannot see it myself. Stoke have ‘their’ way of playing, and that’s great – what I cannot fathom is why the Stoke fans are happy for their team to be dominated in matches, and why they would be happy for lower mid table finishes every year. The run to the FA cup final doesn’t count, Millwall got there, West Ham did it – it’s not a barometer for a good team.
If anything, it is the lack of ambition of Pulis which I find confusing. Yes, you are a solid team. But buying a semi decent striker and a creative midfielder won’t make you any less of that. It might even let them challenge for a Europa League slot every year.
My prediction? A walkover for Liverpool. This is a Liverpool team with too much talent, too many game winners and a now solid back four, and I’ll take everything I’ve said back about Stoke and Pulis back if they manage to get a win. Luckily, I’m safe.