After a crushing 6-1 defeat to Stoke City to close out a massively disappointing 2014-15 season, Liverpool needed a result on Sunday—also, amusingly, against Stoke—to kick off the new campaign on a more positive note. In the end, they got it, though Jordan Henderson is cautioning about reading too much into it.
"It’s a new season, a new start," said the club’s new captain, who for his own part had a solid if unspectacular outing, at times seeming limited by his role as the deepest player in a midfield that remains something of a work in progress. "It's important we don't get too carried away, it's one win, one game, so we keep need to work hard."
Paired with James Milner in a nominal double-pivot, it was Henderson who most often was forced to restrain his game, holding back to provide cover for the defence and to ensure the midfield players ahead of him would have a passing outlet. It looked a poor tactical choice for much of the night, and against better sides could be a problem.
The introduction of Emre Can late on got a third midfielder into the mix, improving the situation. Can may not be a disciplined holding midfielder, but against a Stoke side that hadn’t shown much in attack it was a necessary addition, and packing the centre of the pitch with three box-to-box midfielders was a marked improvement on two.
It also allowed Philippe Coutinho, seeming restrained himself at times for the opening hour, to start finding gaps from a narrow position on the left as Liverpool began to play something more like the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree that looked promising during pre-season. Belief began to grow, and Henderson knew there would be a goal coming.
"As soon as [Coutinho] tried to shift it on his right, I knew he would make the keeper work," added Henderson. "It was a fantastic finish. I always have the belief our forward players can create one or two chances towards the end of the game. As long as we stayed solid at the back I knew we would get a chance to win the game."