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The Reds came from behind to keep their top four bid on track at the bet365 Stadium
Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino spared their manager’s blushes as they sprang off the bench to inspire a Liverpool revival.
Incredibly, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has left both Brazilian stars out of his starting line up, as he went with a dour defensive formation to try and curb Stoke’s physical approach.
But the plan back-fired badly as the visiting side looked uncomfortable with the new system, and youngsters Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold appeared to be shell-shocked by their inclusion.
Klopp seemed to be heading for a massive finger-pointing inquest as Jon Walters exploited some shocking Liverpool defending on the stroke of half time to give Stoke a deserved lead.
But the manager replaced his youngsters at the interval with the Samba stars and they made a spectacular point when first Coutinho finished decisively after Emre Can’s brilliant ball, and then Firmino produced a stunning volley to win the game.
1. Reds struggle at the back again
It’s all very well Jurgen Klopp picking a team to contain Stoke and keep the game here tight…but that only works if all the defenders you pick can defend. They couldn’t.
Jon Walters’ goal wasn’t anything special, Stoke didn’t have to do much to create the chance, they just exploited a visiting defence that totally switched off.
More defenders doesn’t always equal better defending.
2. Klopp’s gamble almost backfires
If Klopp was able to bring both Firmino and Coutinho on at half time, then it is inexplicable both couldn’t start.
It simply doesn’t wash. This was just a gamble from the Liverpool manager, and no matter which way you look at it, it failed spectacularly.
At this stage of the season, against such tough opponents, your best players need to be out on the pitch, even if they are not 100 per cent.
3. Throwback to Rodgers’ era
One astute observer suggested “This all seems a little Brendan Rodgers”, and it was a spot on assessment.
Klopp’s tinkering looked like change for change’s sake, which was something the previous manager became increasingly inclined to do, in the final year of his Anfield tenure.
You didn’t need an arm full of coaching badges to work out resting your two biggest stars and going to five at the back may not work. Everyone thought it would not work.
Sometimes, managers can be too clever for their own good.
4. Liverpool should have had a pen
Klopp will argue that the Stoke goal on the stroke of half time should never have happened, not because of the shocking defending (and it was shocking defending from Clyne, Klavan and Lovren) but because of the penalty Liverpool claimed immediately prior to the goal.
He does have a point – Erik Pieters’ challenge on Ben Woodburn made contact with the player not ball, but it still doesn’t excuse the defending that came after.
5. Reds show resilience
Liverpool’s top four hopes could have taken a battering here they may never have recovered from.
This was a gamble that so nearly backfired spectacularly, and it was only the emergence of Coutinho and Firmino after half time that saved the manager from an almighty inquest.
In the final analysis, your best players win games, and you need to give them the best chance of doing that…and being on the pitch helps.