Another victory and a decent display to go with it! King Kenny has brought a new incisiveness and resolve to a team that as recently as the Blackburn game looked totally incapable of either. And as a bonus we got a debut goal from our new number 7. A nervous finish by the striker but encouraging none-the-less!
King Kenny threw a curve ball to the Premier League pre-game team by naming five defenders in his lineup. This lead to instant assumptions about Glen Johnson finally making the right wing role his very own (a subject I totally disagree with most pundits about – Johnson would be a poor winger in my opinion). What Liverpool ended up with was a 3-5-2 formation similar to that employed by Rafa. At the back Kyriakos stepped in where Rafa previously fielded Hyppia to make what is Liverpool’s biggest defensive lineup. We also saw Aurelio slot into a central midfield position in which Rafa used him on a couple of occasions. This clearly shows the advantage of having had King Kenny come in. He’s been to almost every home game and seen the players at close quarters during his involvement as club ambassador.
Kenny showed confidence in his players by asking them to adapt to a new formation and positions. They responded well and were the better team throughout. Defensively we were extremely solid. Reina was only called into his first action of the night well into the second half. John Carew was a handful for our defenders but our extra man in midfield meant Stoke were always reluctant to send anyone up to support the big man.
What was most interesting was our use of the four central midfield players we had on the field. Aurelio and Lucas shared the deeper role while Gerrard and Meireles roamed further up the field. King Kenny seemed to have given them reasonable license to interchange in those pairings. This made for some nice positional interchange which really aided our short passing game. That foursome was weaving around their markers all day. This against an opponent who matched us with five in midfield as well! I believe this was the catalyst for our dominant performance.
Kuyt was fantastic as a lone striker to complement the midfield play. He made himself open, to the obvious pleasure of the commentator. But it was his best performance of the season and could see him causing some selection problems for the boss. Glen Johnson was good down the left side and continues to display a very un-English two footedness. Kelly however really struggled to come to terms with the positional change. Not one of his best games but a learning experience for the talented youngster. At the back Reina was super as usual, pulling off a splendid one-handed reflex save to deny Stoke any chance of an upset.
The treat of the night was the debut of Suarez who came on for Aurelio to join Kuyt up front. I’m sure there was some Dutch secret code going there. He took up the more advanced role of the pair. His first touch in a red shirt bounced of him but from then on he gradually settled. There were glimpses of a great touch and awareness, including a cheeky drag back and heel that almost set up something for the Reds. There were moments of awakening too as he was left on his backside expecting a free kick that never came. Then came the goal. Having been put clean through he delightfully rounded the keeper and quickly shifted onto his left foot to nervously pass one into the net. Replays clearly show the moment he sees the net and his shoulders tense up in anticipation of the first Liverpool goal in the legendary no.7 shirt of his manager. Fortunately the Stoke defender who was close enough to prevent the goal only managed to nudge it against the post and send it spinning in. And the Kop erupted!!
Moment of the Game: King Kenny sending Suarez out to warm up to stop the frustrated crowd from getting to quiet. Masterstroke of management! It’s these small details that might make the difference – p.s. it also helps that King Kenny doesn’t spend the entire half wiping imaginary sweat of his face ala RH.