Adam Bate looks at the return of the SAS, new roles for Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva and Stoke's record cross tally in Liverpool's 5-3 win.
Liverpool emerged victorious after an extraordinary 5-3 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday.
An unfortunate Ryan Shawcross own goal set the Reds on their way and when Luis Suarez doubled the lead it looked like it might be a straightforward afternoon for the visitors.
But Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam hit back for the Potters before the break and it took a Steven Gerrard penalty to restore Liverpool's advantage after the interval.
Suarez then added his second after good work from substitute Daniel Sturridge and while Jonathan Walters pulled one back, Sturridge himself put the seal on a remarkable win.
Here we look at the return of the SAS, the interesting positioning of Gerrard and Lucas Leiva for Liverpool and how Mark Hughes put the emphasis on crosses to trouble Simon Mignolet...
Jack Butland made his first Premier League start in the Stoke goal as Mark Hughes opted for a 4-5-1 formation that included former Liverpool players Adam and Crouch.
Liverpool welcomed back Gerrard in midfield with Joe Allen injured, while Glen Johnson returned at right-back. Suarez took the lone forward role with Sturridge on the bench.
STORY OF THE MATCH
"We made mistakes defensively which wasn't so good and we'll assess that," Hughes told Sky Sports afterwards. He wasn't wrong. Shawcross was unlucky to deflect Aly Cissokho's wayward shot past Butland for the opener but the Stoke defence only had themselves to blame as they failed to deal with a long ball to allow Suarez in to double the lead shortly afterwards. They might be 12th but the more cautious interpretation of the table reveals that Stoke are also just five points off bottom and shoddy defending like this will have to stop if they are to stay out of trouble.
Ryan Shawcross was unlucky with his own goal but culpable for the second goal
Of course, Liverpool also let in three goals in a performance that revealed more than a few holes in their own defensive make-up. After three shut-outs to start the campaign, only Fulham and Hull - both at Anfield - have failed to breach the Reds back-line in the last 18 Premier League matches and it's an issue Brendan Rodgers should be looking to address.
There was a tactical tweak for this game with Gerrard coming in as a holding midfielder with Lucas Leiva uncharacteristically operating in a more advanced role. "We'd been working on it," revealed Gerrard in his post-match interview. "The manager told me that moving forward I'll be playing this role a lot more. It's going to take a bit of getting used to it. I'll be comfortable in there once I get used to it."
While there was praise for Gerrard in the Sky Sports studio, the Liverpool captain's own words hint at the reality that this was a mixed performance. There were plenty of positives. The 33-year-old gained possession for his side on 16 occasions, four more than anyone else on the pitch and more than twice as many as any Liverpool player. Nobody on either side made more tackles.
Steven Gerrard's passing was very different on Sunday (right) compared to his role on the opening day (left)
But there were misunderstandings and moments of sloppiness too. Jordan Henderson appeared to anticipate Gerrard staying put to receive a lay-off only to for his captain to break forwards, allowing Adam the chance to take advantage of the vacant space to fire home an equaliser. It was also Gerrard's miscontrol that led to Stoke's third goal through Walters.
Gerrard's passing was also a double-edged sword for Liverpool. "Lucas is great defensively but, in terms of passing, Gerrard brings more to the role," said Carragher. It's true that Gerrard offers a greater range of passing in that deep position but the nature of the role is such that ball retention is considered paramount. Gerrard's pass completion rate of 75.9 per cent was less than ideal.
Lucas Leiva (highlighted) was used in an uncharacteristic attacking midfield role, getting forward well
New role for Lucas
Gerrard wasn't the only one adapting to a relatively new position. "That's the first time I've ever seen Lucas Leiva in an attacking role and he did well," added Carragher. "But I think it could be a problem going forward because it's not his natural role as an attacking midfielder even though he did do well."
Lucas might have interpreted his advanced role in much the same way that Morgan Schneiderlin snaps into tackles and presses high up the field for Southampton. What was curious was that the Brazilian appeared to play as a genuine attacking midfielder instead- involving himself in the attack and playing neat little passes to retain the ball in the final third. His pass completion rate of 88.5 per cent was particularly commendable given that he played more passes in the opposition half than any other Liverpool player.
Stoke attempted a record 51 crosses against Liverpool - green successful / red unsuccessful
|Most crosses - PL 2013/14|
Adam positioning and Stoke crossing
Liverpool weren't the only team to use a midfielder in an unusual way. Adam played more than a third of his passes in the right-wing zone as Hughes looked for the left-footed midfielder to cut inside and swing crosses into the box. During the course of the contest, Adam attempted 22 crosses - more than any player in any game in this Premier League season.
He wasn't alone either. Stoke's tally of 51 crosses is also a Premier League high in 2013/14. Perhaps Stoke had recalled how Simon Mignolet had impressed with his shot-stopping in the game between these sides in August - even saving a penalty - but had flapped at a fair few crosses. It was from one Marko Arnautovic cross that Stoke got their opener here thanks to Crouch.
|Stoke v Liverpool - Crosses|
Just when it seemed as though Stoke's tactics would ensure Liverpool's wait for a Premier League win at the Britannia Stadium would go on, Raheem Sterling had his say. The young winger endured a difficult 2013 but looks to be returning to form at just the right time if he is take advantage of Theo Walcott's injury and force his way into the England team for this summer's World Cup. He certainly impressed on Sunday, albeit in controversial fashion in winning the penalty that allowed Gerrard to restore the lead.
Sterling appeared to handball in intercepting Marc Wilson's attempted clearance and while Rodgers' assessment that the youngster's subsequent tumble inside the box when up against the same opponent was "a Spanish penalty" felt an uncomfortable euphemism, it was also a canny piece of forward play as he suckered the defender in for the challenge. Sterling's pace and width may well be a key feature of Liverpool's play going forward.
SAS are back
But Sterling isn't the only threat on the break now that Sturridge has announced his return. "We brought Daniel on to play on the counter-attack," explained Rodgers afterwards. After nine games missing through injury, the manner in which Sturridge renewed his relationship with Suarez would have left Liverpool fans daring to look up the table rather than over their shoulder.
Firstly there was the delightful shift of his body weight to flick the ball out to Suarez for the fourth goal after breaking at pace from the halfway line. Then there was the movement and persistence in latching onto a Suarez pass that allowed him to finish past Butland to make it five late on. Liverpool might not be the finished article, but their winning in style along the way. Who knows how far it might yet take them.
Luis Suarez (7) and Daniel Sturridge (15) linked up well with each other once again
"In terms of our overall performance, I thought we were excellent. Obviously, we made individual errors and collective errors but things have gone against us. I thought the penalty decision was a poor one so we're disappointed. Unfortunately, we had to then force the issues and they've caught us on the break a couple of times. Defensively we made too many errors today."
"We made mistakes defensively which wasn't so good and we'll assess that. But to come here and score five goals - I think it's the first time Liverpool have won here in the Premier League - is fantastic. I'm delighted for the players. We were really offensive in our play. We lost our concentration and it's back to 2-2 but that's when we showed the character of the team."