By Kevin Koczwara
Stoke City is no one’s favorite opponent. Tony Pulis’ side is well-organized and physical from the first whistle — it showed in the six yellow cards Stoke received on Sunday. Brendan Rodgers isn’t first or the last manager who was unable to crack the Potters defense. But things could have been different if Liverpool had found the final pass and the final touch. Rodgers’ side dominated the game and despite being a young side, again, the team didn’t back down from Stoke’s physical play, which is encouraging.
“It was a good test for our young players and young team. I thought the players were brilliant today — I thought their application and how they coped physically with the game,”Rodgers told talkSPORT after the game. “Obviously, as the game wore on the spaces opened up for us and we arrived in some great areas and just couldn’t get the ball in the net.”
Liverpool exploited the midfield with its trio of Nuri Sahin, Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen and out numbered Stoke’s pairing of two central players, which allowed the Reds to enjoy the majority of possession. Liverpool, according to the team’s website, had 63.5 percent of the possession in the match, which isn’t unusual for a team playing Stoke. Liverpool completed 524 passes at 81 percent compared to Stoke’s 288 and 66 completion percentage. The numbers fell off a bit for Liverpool in the final third for Liverpool a bit, but that was because the team was trying to unlock Stoke’s defense, which was almost always made up of 9-10 players behind the ball, with the passing numbers going down to 69.9 percent passes completed in the final third, which was still better than Stoke’s overall passing number. That number is still relatively high considering how many times Liverpool pressed forward and looked for the smallest of openings.
The problem was the type of passes being completed weren’t breaking Stoke down. Instead, Liverpool ran out of ideas, started to play flat — at times — and then the team reverted to crossing the ball in the box unsuccessfully or players got caught up in two minds. Of the 22 crosses Liverpool sent into the Stoke box, only nine percent found a Liverpool player. On top of that, Liverpool’s scoring suffered because of poor shooting — nothing new there. Liverpool took 18 shots — 10 from inside the box — and only two were registered on net (the team hit the woodwork four times too), which is poor. Rodgers was happy with the performance overall, but he pointed out that sending in crosses is OK when it’s done at the right time, not just for the sake of sending the ball into the box.
“It was about the moment to put the cross in, it’s not always the right time to put it in. There were other times when we had numbers in the box,” said Rodgers.
“I think it was the quality of that final ball [why we didn’t score], whether the ball comes in too early or whether we shot when we should have passed and then we passed maybe when we should shoot. It was just that final decision-making when we were at the top end of the field , but overall I was very proud of the team and the application of the team. We kept going right to the very end.
“Normally in a game like that when you’re a home team the longer the game is 0-0 the other team get the impetus and they can break away and get goals, but I think for us it was relentless really, we kept going in the second half, kept going but couldn’t get the final touch,” he continued.
There was one major plus for Rodgers to take away from the 0-0 draw: It was Liverpool’s first clean sheet of the season in the Premier League.
“That was important for us. I think at a successful team you build the base of that on your defensive qualities. To get a clean sheet today against a team that really tests you or really can test you is fantastic,” said Rodgers.
Tinkering and Passing
Liverpool’s defenders out-passed Stoke’s midfield. Steven N’Zonzi lead Stoke’s midfield with 36 total passes, which was only three more than Daniel Agger’s 33 — Agger had the fewest passes of any Liverpool defender. Glen Johnson had 48 passes; Andre Wisdom attempted 50; and Martin Skrtel attempted 61.