Liverpool 4 Lallana 35’, Firmino 44’, Imbula (OG) 60’, Sturridge 71’
Stoke 1 Walters 13’
Despite digging themselves a hole with some lazy defending early, Liverpool found their rhythm before half time and cruised to a comfortable victory.
It might change with fixtures coming thick and fast this week, but Jürgen Klopp does not like changing a winning team. Liverpool rolled out the same 433 that had won two in a row while keeping consecutive clean sheets, and they came out of the blocks fast. In the opening ten minutes, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino both were close to getting on the end of crosses in the six yard box, Jordan Henderson shot over from a good position, and Firmino had a headed effort saved by Lee Grant in the Stoke goal.
Despite the strong early showing, the Reds had a lapse in them, and in the 13th minute, Jonathan Walters had given Stoke the lead. The defense failed to properly clear a Peter Crouch header, Sadio Mané was sloppy in his closing down of the cross, Dejan Lovren lost track of his man, and Simon Mignolet was unable to cover his near post. 1-0 Bad Guys.
It was nearly two a few minutes later, as more tragicomic defending saw Reds cult hero Joe Allen bearing down on goal, but Mignolet produced a solid save, and for once, Crouch’s legs were too short to poke home the rebound. Halfway to the interval, Liverpool started to find their rhythm again, and Firmino had a goalbound effort from six yards out cleared off the line by Crouch. The pressure held, and ten minutes from the halftime whistle, Adam Lallana popped up as the ball ping-ponged around the Stoke box following a delightful pass from Divock Origi, collected a poor touch by Glen Johnson, and buried the ball in the back of the net from a narrow angle.
Roberto Firmino had failed to score from his previous nine shots on target and was due a goal. It looked like he might go frustrated again as he blasted over from 12 yards, but one minute from injury time he gathered the ball at the edge of the Stoke box, took a touch into space and drove a strike off both posts and into the back of the net. There was nearly time for one more, as Firmino heel-flicked a James Milner cross into the path of Mané, but his attempt bobbled just wide of the post.
The Reds started the second half looking to put the game away, and should’ve gone close when Milner was set up brilliantly by Mané, but his driven effort was smashed out of bounds near the corner flag. Stoke’s resistance was futile, however, and fifteen minutes into the half Henderson broke forward, played a diagonal into a streaking Origi, whose inch-perfect cross was bundled into the back of the net by Giannelli Imbula, desperately trying to keep Mané from his 9th goal of the campaign.
Liverpool were in complete control now, and both Mané and Nathaniel Clyne went close before Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge were introduced for Lallana and Origi with twenty minutes left to play. Sturridge immediately displayed his poacher’s gifts, sneaking in behind the Stoke backline to intercept a blind backpass from Ryan Shawcross. Alone with Grant, the England interational made no mistake, round the goalkeeper and slotting home for his first Premier League goal of the season.
Stoke were broken and Liverpool were looking to rest, so Klopp’s men saw out the rest of the match uneventfully, bar a wild scramble in the visitors’ box ending with an Alberto Moreno scissor kick blocked for a corner.
In the end, the scoreline didn’t really flatter the Reds, who were dominant for 75 minutes and produced plenty of clear opportunities while restricting Stoke to a total of six shots. The ease with which they gave up the goal and big chance in their sloppy spell, though, was eerily reminiscent of previous iterations of Liverpool teams of yore. Nonetheless, they never looked like giving up, and kept grinding and pressing and running and harrying until the opportunities presented themselves, taking advantage as they did so.
Adam Lallana scored again, making it seven goals and assists in his last six appearances, while Divock Origi and Sadio Mané did everything except score, displaying a tantalizing link-up that deserved more. Firmino scored again — ending a six-match drought — while looking lively throughout, and captain Henderson continued to do the dirty work at the base of midfield, exhibiting his exquisite passing range on several occasions. Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren predictably struggled with the alpine Peter Crouch when Stoke pressed the aerial attack, and were unconvincing in enough moments that Joël Matip’s return will be highly anticipated.
Only three days rest now before Anfield will host third-placed Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, pitting Klopp against his old rival for the 9th time. A Liverpool win would see the Reds put daylight between themselves and the chasing pack while keeping up with league leaders Chelsea.