Injuries, fatigue and illness left Jurgen Klopp with a host of selection problems and it showed from the start. Stoke City jumped on Liverpool early but the break benefitted the Reds. Liverpool stoked back for a 1-2 win away from home.
Generally it was a game that was severely lacking in quality from both sides across the pitch, particularly so when former Red Joe Allen left with injury.
Given the circumstances, Klopp opted to change the shape of the side. Despite Liverpool growing into the game through the first half, it was clear something was not working and needed to be changed at the interval.
After replacing the teenagers with the samba boys, Liverpool’s attack was given greater impetus as the set up shop in Stoke’s half. As the side shifted shape again and the subs settled in, the tide turned. Liverpool repeatedly came close. Then Philippe Coutinho found an equalizer.
If goals change games and this one definitely did. It was only a matter of time before the Reds turned the screw and completed the comeback. Within minutes ,Gini Wijnaldum drove a looping pass over-the-top to an onrushing Roberto Firmino who smashed an arcing screamer strike under the bar and in for the game winner.
From there, the Reds just needed to hold on better than they were able to with Bournemouth and they just about did it.
Here are four findings from the match.
For a second match in a row, Klopp tinkered with three centre-halves. The results have been mixed at best. He played a back three, one that looked more like a back five, in the first half but the centre of the defence looked most vulnerable. Mistakes abounded and Liverpool were lucky to get to half-time only one down.
Playing centrally, Joel Matip is the only one that looks remotely assured of his role. Ragnar Klaven looked lost on the left, struggling to win balls in the air and he was extremely vulnerable to pace. Meanwhile, Dejan Lovren looks increasingly like the version that began his Liverpool career, often out of position, incapable of clearing headers, and severely lacking in game intelligence.
Illness may have necessarily limited their minutes, but Liverpool’s synchronous samba connection completely changed this contest. A match missing quality got a sudden injection. It may have taken 25 minutes for the first tally, Coutinho’s third in three games, but second came just two minutes later.
Coutinho rightly receives praise and before his midseason injury, he was on pace to be Premier League Player of the Year.
Yet, Firmino deserves far more attention and accolades than he gets. The number of ways he he can influence a game when in form is second to none. Firmino was everywhere, including cinching the comeback.
The first half saw Nathaniel Clyne playing on the left to accommodate Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right side. This allowed James Milner to slide into central midfield. None of them looked particularly good but Alexander-Arnold was the best of the bunch. However, he became a victim in Klopp’s effort to restore some sense of order.
The second half saw Milner and Clyne return to more familiar roles which stabilized their performances slightly. What has become increasingly clear over the course of the season is just how inadequate both actually are. They are no better than average as a pair. Neither should feel safe come summer.
For all the attention that Coutinho and Firmino achieved for their two-minute surge of scoring, Simon Mignolet was the unequivocal man of the match. The Reds may have scored twice to win but the keeper kept two point blank strikes out of the net. Liverpool do not win this match without Migs.
The Belgian has been often maligned during his time at Liverpool but, since returning to the starting role, he has made quite a case for himself.
Particularly in the last few weeks, his form has been exceptional and he has managed to cope as well as any keeper can be expected given the number of errors the defence in front of him has shipped.