It was one of Jurgen Klopp’s gambles of the season and it was rewarded with one of the turnarounds of the campaign. The Liverpool manager had concluded that his two Brazilians, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, worn down by having to play international football in South America and then face the Merseyside derby, could play “no more than 30 minutes” at Stoke.
During the interval, having seen Liverpool produce one of their most anaemic halves under his management, Klopp thought they might last 45. The boys from Brazil did more than just last, scoring the goals that turned this match on its head and cemented Liverpool’s hold on the Champions League positions.
Within two minutes of each other first Coutinho and then Firmino found the net. At the final whistle, Klopp ran on to the pitch to embrace his goalscorers and Simon Mignolet, whose point-blank save ensured Liverpool left the Potteries with three points rather than one. The 2,800 who had travelled from Merseyside began singing Klopp’s name. During the interval, they had been shrugging their shoulders at their manager’s decisions.
Stoke 1 Liverpool 2 player ratings
Stoke 1 Liverpool 2 player ratings
1/24 Lee Grant – 6 out of 10
Caught off his line by Firmino, but in truth, was little else he could do about such an inch-perfect strike.
2/24 Glen Johnson – 5 out of 10
Initially comfortable against his former club but, like many of his teammates, faded as the game went on.
3/24 Bruno Martins Indi – 5 out of 10
Too easily let Firmino slip for Liverpool’s second after a long ball over the top.
4/24 Ryan Shawcross – 6 out of 10
Has the measure of Origi, but struggled once up against the quality of Firmino.
5/24 Erik Pieters – 6 out of 10
Another who was not troubled by anything Liverpool tried in the first half, but Clyne proved to be a much tougher opponent than Alexander-Arnold.
6/24 Xherdan Shaqiri – 8 out of 10
Enjoyed himself against Clyne, especially for the goal, producing an inch-perfect cross for Walters.
7/24 Geoff Cameron – 6 out of 10
Had no trouble with Liverpool’s midfield in the first half but was overran as the visitors gained momentum in the second.
8/24 Joe Allen – 6 out of 10
Injured early on in a challenge and forced off, will be disappointed to not have lasted against his former club. Replaced by Charlie Adam.
9/24 Marko Arnautovic – 7 out of 10
Had his way with Liverpool’s makeshift backline before the break but saw his influence diminish in the second half.
10/24 Saido Berahino – 5 out of 10
Really should have levelled the score when presented with a simple tap in a few yards out.
11/24 Jonathan Walters – 7 out of 10
A handful for Liverpool’s defence and took his goal well, but was fading by the time he was replaced.
12/24 Simon Mignolet – 9 out of 10
Saved his team on several occasions, particularly with two brilliant point-blank saves.
13/24 Trent Alexander-Arnold – 4 out of 10
Like his fellow teenager Woodburn, struggled with the physicality of the game. Perhaps should not have been thrown in at the deep end, was subbed at half time.
14/24 Ragnar Klavan – 4 out of 10
Continued his worrying vein of form with another disappointing performance. Never looked comfortable up against a runner like Arnautovic.
15/24 Joel Matip – 4 out of 10
Should have blocked the cross for Walters’ goal but appeared to duck out of its way.
16/24 Dejan Lovren – 6 out of 10
Will be unfairly singled out for the goal, was left with three men to mark.
17/24 Nathaniel Clyne – 6 out of 10
Could have done better to track Shaqiri and prevent the cross for Walters’ goal. Massive improvement in the second half on his preferred right flank, especially offensively.
18/24 Emre Can – 5 out of 10
Another underwhelming display, though it featured moments when Can showed he can be the all-action, bustling midfield presence Liverpool need. Those moments were too rare.
19/24 Georginio Wijnaldum – 4 out of 10
One of his poorest displays in a Liverpool shirt, one with many mistimed tackles. Heading a Stoke corner back into his own box at the start of the second half was suicidal.
20/24 James Milner – 7 out of 10
Probably Liverpool’s best outfield player before Coutinho and Firmino’s introductions, but that was not saying much. Adapted well to a midfield role after spending the season at left-back.
21/24 Ben Woodburn – 4 out of 10
Will feel he deserved a penalty just prior to Stoke’s goal, but ultimately, the incident was an example of how easily he was bullied.
22/24 Divock Origi – 6 out of 10
Struggled alone up top in the first half but also lacked any kind of service. Replaced by Daniel Sturridge.
23/24 Philippe Coutinho – 9 out of 10
Even when under the weather, the best player on the pitch. The game changed following his introduction.
24/24 Roberto Firmino – 8 out of 10
Superbly taken goal. He may be tired, but Klopp cannot afford to rest him over the coming weeks.
The sense of bewilderment that came with Liverpool’s team sheet was profound. It showed Klopp had selected a bench with far more firepower than anything he had put on to the pitch. As Klopp surveyed events from the touchline, Coutinho, Firmino and Daniel Sturridge were all on the seats behind him. In front of the Liverpool manager was an attack led by Divock Origi and 17-year-old Ben Woodburn.
There had been doubts whether Coutinho, afflicted by illness, would have featured at all, but since he was on the bench he and Firmino were presumably both fit to play at least part of the match. Within minutes of them both coming on, Liverpool appeared to possess a cutting edge. Lee Grant in the Stoke goal was forced into his first saves of the match while Dejan Lovren’s header struck the crossbar.
Then came the goals that ensured Liverpool finished the day third in the Premier League, nine points ahead of Arsenal in fifth who have three games in hand. One was very good, the second was utterly spectacular.
Twenty minutes from the finish, with Liverpool pressing increasingly hard, Glenn Whelan’s weak header fell straight to the tips of Coutinho’s boots. It was not quite as spectacular as his finish in the Merseyside derby but it was good enough to equalise.
Then came one of the goals of this season. It came from a long ball from Georginio Wijnaldum that Firmino allowed to bounce once before smashing the ball past Grant for the winner.
Stoke were stung into some kind of action and should have equalised when Saido Berahino met Marko Arnautovic’s perfectly-placed low cross a few yards from goal. Mignolet saved instinctively with his thigh.
That Liverpool turned the game so spectacularly is not to belittle the two teenagers they replaced. Woodburn might have won a penalty just before Stoke scored when he was brought down by Erik Pieters in a tangle of legs just inside the area. Trent Alexander-Arnold, another graduate of the Liverpool academy, also performed well. However, by the interval, Liverpool had collectively performed so indifferently that drastic measures were called for.
Mark Hughes would argue that Stoke played well, just as they had against Manchester United and Chelsea. The sum total of those games has been a single point. Stoke have now won five matches in four months and Hughes’ mood would not have been improved by the loss of Joe Allen to a hamstring injury midway through the first half.
It was a 45 minutes that should have produced more than one goal for the home side. It came from a cross by Xherdan Shaqiri that allowed Jonathan Walters to head home from three yards. Walters was born on Merseyside and brought up as an Everton fan. This was his seventh league goal against Liverpool – as many as Robin van Persie and Alan Shearer. His day, however, was not to get much better.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Grant; Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Shaqiri, Allen (Adam 27, Ramadan 81), Cameron, Aranutovic; Walters (Whelan 68), Berahino.
Subs not used: Given, Muniesa, Diouf, Crouch.
Liverpool (3-5-2): Mignolet; Lovren, Matip, Klavan; Alexander-Arnold (Coutinho 45), Milner, Can, Wijnaldum, Clyne; Woodburn (Firmino 45), Origi (Sturridge 68).
Substitutes: Karius, Grujic, Moreno, Lucas.
Referee: Mike Dean.Reuse content