Stoke vs Liverpool match report: Coutinho scores brilliant late goal as Liverpool beat Stoke and avenge 6-1 defeat

Stoke 0 Liverpool 1

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The Independent Football

It would, quite frankly, have taken only the briefest daub of colour on the canvas of this bleakest of games to give us something by which to remember the day, but in the end, Philippe Coutinho scored a winning goal that should endure right through to the end-of-season montages in May and beyond.

Bravo to the little Brazilian who scored the kind of goal on 86 minutes that did not just remind us what it is we appreciate about a game that has been in abeyance for the past two months but gave some kind of narrative to an afternoon badly lacking a theme. Up until then, this match had all the charm of a day spent in traffic on the A50, and then Liverpool’s No 10 intervened with a shot of power and surprise.

Before then, Brendan Rodgers’ side had cautiously confronted the legacy of that 6-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium 11 weeks previously which they, and their manager in particular, have had all summer to ruminate upon. The away team were understandably eager that the same fate did not befall them again and while they defended considerably better than that fateful day in May, there was not much to be said about them going forward.

As for Stoke, contemplating their new squad replete with Barcelona and Real Madrid exiles, this was not really an afternoon that announced a brave new era. They were competent at the back but in front of a reluctant Xherdan Shaqiri, in the stand running the rule over his potential new club, it would be fair to say that the Potters did not exactly seal the deal in that regard.

For their manager Mark Hughes, there was the bitterness at being beaten by the kind of shot he would hit in the best of his playing days. He made some quietly scathing comments afterwards about the amount Liverpool have spent this summer and the quality one might expect to get for that price. He complained about some of the decisions by the referee, Anthony Taylor, but for all that it did look like the Stoke manager had settled for a draw from 20 minutes out.

 

Coutinho tore up that possibility with a quite wonderful goal. He was not even facing goal when he took the ball from Joe Gomez, from the left side, rolled off the challenge from the substitute Steven Sidwell, and lashed a shot from 30 yards with such fearsome power that it went through Jack Butland’s grasp rather than beyond it. A great goal from a player who could be great one day, and goodness knows Liverpool need one in the post Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling era.

You could tell by the way Coutinho’s team-mates were unwilling to let him go without adding their own personal thanks, just how much it meant to them. As the survivors from last season tried to exorcise that 6-1 defeat here, the four new boys in the first XI did their best in unfamiliar circumstances. The end result was a struggle to put it all together.

At left-back, the 18-year-old Gomez did not look out of place and he earned high praise from his manager. In attack, Liverpool struggled to release Christian Benteke on goal yet he spent the game a frustrated figure, looking to break off the back of a Stoke defence that handled him quite comfortably.

Nevertheless, Liverpool got there in the end, although in the first half in particular it was hard to see how they might do it. For all Stoke’s hard work in midfield it should also be said they had few decent chances on goal. In the second half there was one for Marco Van Ginkel with 10 minutes left, and a free-kick from Charlie Adam that drifted beyond Mame Diouf but they created precious little.

As for their manager, Hughes claimed a penalty for a handball by Nathaniel Clyne during a scruffy chance that fell his team’s way in the first half. He also questioned why Dejan Lovren was only given a yellow card for a stray elbow that cracked Diouf on the nose and might have merited a tougher punishment.

It was a truly forgettable first half of misplaced passes and incompetence on both sides. The goalscoring chances, if there were to be any, looked as if they would come from an error. Perhaps Simon Mignolet’s erratic kicking or Van Ginkel’s occasionally wild passes but in the end both sides escaped unscathed.

The best chance before the break fell to Glen Johnson, Stoke’s new right-back, wearing No 8 and presented with the rare opportunity to put the ball away against his former club. Stoke had sliced Liverpool open down the right side where Jonathan Walters slipped in Van Ginkel.

His cross was flapped away by Mignolet and then Martin Skrtel before it came back to Johnson via Ibrahim Afellay and the handball from Clyne that Hughes later highlighted. Johnson had to adjust his feet and the ball’s position before he allowed himself a shot which was struck without power or placement.

Otherwise it was poor quality, to say the least. Liverpool looked at their most dangerous when Coutinho had the ball and passed it quickly. When he lingered on it, they tended to lose their effectiveness. Benteke was not fed the ball quickly and early, as he likes it, and as a result was notably peripheral.

In the second half the pure tiredness of both sides meant there was greater opportunity in both boxes. On 77 minutes, Coutinho lashed a shot high into the away fans behind Butland’s goal and it seemed a matter of time before Rodgers replaced him. The Brazilian has had just three weeks training after his Copa America exertions and did not travel with the team to Australia in pre-season.

Indeed, Rodgers later admitted that he was about to send on Danny Ings before Coutinho found his range so spectacularly. Just before then Roberto Firmino came on for a debut and then there was that wonderful end to the match. Not quite good enough to dispel the memory of the low quality of what had gone before but close enough.

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