Anfield thrilled by a new hero as Suarez makes instant impact
Liverpool 2 Stoke City 0
Thursday 03 February 2011
Like boys had done with their bedroom posters all over Merseyside, they took down Fernando Torres's banner from the side wall of the Kop. A few had burned his shirt outside the Shankly Gates, much to the disgust of Kenny Dalglish's son Paul, who remarked that what was important about a Liverpool shirt was the badge on the front and not the name on the back.
For the first time Anfield saw a Liverpool shirt with "Suarez" on the back. He was given just under half an hour and, if you judge a man's career by his first five touches, then Luis Suarez represents Dalglish's worst signing since he brought Stéphane Guivarc'h, a non-scoring Breton centre-forward who somehow possessed a World Cup winners' medal, to Newcastle in 1998.
If you judge him by the way he scored Liverpool's second, a little over a quarter of an hour after coming on, he is a signing that bears the quality of an Aldridge or a Barnes. Put through by the halfway line, his pace sent an electric charge around the old stadium. The keeper, Asmir Begovic, was rounded and, although Andy Wilkinson's lunge deflected the ball on to the post and over the line, you would have to have had every fibre of romanticism ripped out to call it an own goal.
Since Suarez had not even trained with his team-mates since Liverpool paid Ajax £22.8m for his services, his goal was astonishingly well taken. Curiously, Torres had been on the Anfield pitch for 16 minutes when he scored his first Liverpool goal – against Chelsea – although he had already played two away games.
Andy Carroll, more expensive and perhaps more risky, will not be fit for another month but when asked what Liverpool will be like when the pair are playing alongside Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles, Dalglish, who had also scored on his Anfield debut, against Newcastle in 1977, remarked that there would be a few frightened teams coming here before adding with severity: "We cannot and we will not get carried away by this."
Torres's banner had been replaced by a slogan that proclaimed: "There is a light that never goes out", a song title written by Morrissey, a Mancunian not known for his love of football whose last appearance in Liverpool saw him leave the stage after one number when the audience threw beer over him. Next to the words was a picture of Sid James.
To quote the title of one of Sid's many bad films, Liverpool carried on at their convenience. This was their third straight win under Dalglish and it was by a distance the simplest. Had Gerrard or Jonjo Shelvey aimed a fraction lower in the second half or Dirk Kuyt a little narrower in the first, this might have been a rout once Meireles had driven the ball into the heart of Begovic's net two minutes after the restart as Stoke struggled to clear a Gerrard free-kick.
Stoke had not won here since 1959 and asked to differentiate between this Liverpool side and the one they had beaten 2-0 in November, their manager, Tony Pulis, said the biggest difference was that then they had been at the Britannia Stadium.
That represented one of the stations of Roy Hodgson's cross. There had been no fight in Liverpool and no spirit to counter Stoke's muscular brand of football, which may be part of the attraction of Carroll and Suarez; centre-forwards who can handle themselves.
"We did OK for the first half but to concede just after half-time knocked us," Pulis added. "But up until the second goal I thought we were in the game."
The standing ovation for Suarez as he warmed up before coming on was still funnelling around Anfield when Begovic made one of the saves of the season. Martin Kelly sent in a hard, fast cross that Glen Johnson headed with such conviction that fans behind the goal were already screaming their celebrations when it struck the Bosnian's right glove as he spread himself while falling back.
Robert Huth scooped the loose ball clear. Earlier in the half, Salif Diao had done the same to deny Sotirios Kyrgiakos, one of three centre-halves deployed by Dalglish to neuter a team that a few months ago had bullied Liverpool into submission. It was put to Liverpool's manager that the league table was looking more familiar. "Aye," he said. "Just a bit."
Liverpool (3-4-2-1) Reina; Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Agger; Kelly, Lucas, Aurelio (Suarez, 63), Johnson; Meireles (Shelvey, 75), Gerrard; Kuyt. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (g), Rodriguez, Carragher, Ngog, Wilson.
Stoke City (4-5-1) Begovic; Wilkinson, Faye (Collins, 65), Huth, Higginbotham; Pennant, Whitehead, Wilson (Fuller, 66), Diao (Delap, 61), Walters; Carew. Substitutes not used Sorensen (g), Whelan, Jones, Etherington.
Man of the match Suarez.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).
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