Liverpool came from behind to register an important 2-1 victory over Stoke City at the bet365 stadium on Saturday night
The Reds needed to make a statement after disappointingly dropping points against Bournemouth in midweek, with their issues against the smaller teams rearing their head again and casting more doubt on their top 4 aspirations.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were behind before half time as Jon Walters put the Potters ahead but half-time substitutes Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino came on to inspire the Reds to a victory in two second half minutes.
The result leaves Liverpool third in the Premier League, 2 points ahead of Manchester City who are in fourth and have a game in hand and 9 points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently have 3 games in hand over the Merseysiders. We take a look at the key talking points from the match.
Philippe Coutinho key to Liverpool’s top 4 hopes
Philippe Coutinho’s form in recent weeks has been magnificent and Liverpool needed the Brazilian magician’s help once against on Saturday night after a first half in which they not only conceded a goal but looked completely out of sorts.
Coutinho duly obliged with a man of the match performance and his introduction was exactly what Liverpool needed. Despite being ill and according to Klopp, losing several pounds over the course of the week due to that illness the Brazilian did not allow that to hinder his performance and showed exactly why he receives so much adoration from Liverpool fans.
In just one half, Coutinho registered 3 shots on target, made 3 key passes, made 20 accurate passes and registered a pass completion rate of 95%, according to WhoScored. With the season-ending injury to Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana’s injury problems, Coutinho’s fitness will be of paramount importance for the Reds over the next few weeks.
30 – Philippe Coutinho has scored more @premierleague goals than any other Brazilian in the competition’s history. Record.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 8, 2017
Roberto Firmino shows his importance
Although Philippe Coutinho is the more important of the two, his Brazilian teammate also showed just how important he is for the Reds with a brilliantly taken volley that caught the onrushing Lee Grant completely by surprise.
Firmino had already been trying his level best to get Liverpool a goal and his movement for the winner was terrific. Firmino also had the presence of mind to calmly allow the ball to drop, look up and see the opportunity to catch Grant out and he did that with aplomb.
It is now 10 goals and 9 assists in 30 appearances for Firmino in the English Premier League this season, making it a direct contribution of 19 goals in 30 appearances. Firmino is an important part of this team and he showed that again on Saturday night.
— Anfield Express (@AnfieldExpress) April 9, 2017
Klopp’s team selection nearly cost Liverpool
Given the test that Stoke poses for most teams that make their way to the bet365 stadium, it was surprising to see the starting lineup that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp chose for such an important match.
Not only did Klopp opt for an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, the German also started Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn with the latter playing just behind Divock Origi ahead of a packed midfield. Klopp was definitely short of options but playing the 17-year old against a team known for their physical and unforgiving approach is a huge risk.
Clearly Klopp quickly realised his error and withdrew both the youngsters at half-time. The German is lucky that his substitutes were able to turn the game around or his gamble could have cost Liverpool very dearly.
Coutinho and Firmino come on for Liverpool at half time, as Jurgen Klopp remembers it would be nice to qualify for the Champions League.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) April 8, 2017
Mignolet saves the day
Simon Mignolet has come in for a lot of stick this season and during his Liverpool career as a whole and a lot of it has been justified. The Belgian goalkeeper has looked unconvincing during his time at Anfield and has made a number of high-profile errors that have cost Liverpool.
However, Mignolet was one of their stand-out performers and pulled off several brilliant saves, most notable a tremendous reflex save at the death, to keep Liverpool in the match. Reds fans will be hoping he can perform like this week in, week out.
Klopp and Mignolet after the game! pic.twitter.com/hFllL7zGtz
— Anything Liverpool (@Anything_LFC) April 8, 2017
Important victory but the Reds must learn
The victory against Stoke was a hugely important one for Liverpool’s season and sent out a statement to several who doubted their top 4 credentials. Liverpool have had big problems beating the smaller teams, especially away from home and travelling to Stoke is never an easy prospect.
Liverpool need to win games like this if they want to qualify for the Champions League – especially since they played their last match against teams in the top 7 during their impressive Merseyside Derby victory.
However, the Reds were unimpressive last night and looked completely out of sorts – in part due to the unfamiliar tactics – and they must learn their lessons from the previous two fixtures if they want to qualify for the Champions League.