In his pre-match presser Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp stressted the importance of the crowd getting behind the boys today and the Kop responded in kind as the Reds ran out 4-1 winners over Stoke City — a result that sees them leapfrog the Potters and gear up for their crucial second leg with Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday.
Alberto Moreno, often criticized for his lapses of defensive awareness, showed what he could do going the other way by taking advantage of James Milner’s quick free-kick before strolling in to space and lashing a swerving drive past a completely bamboozled Jakob Haugaard. The visitors restored parity just over ten minutes later when Bojan Krkic eluded the attentions of Kolo Toure to head past Simon Mignolet, but their hosts would go into the break with the lead firmly in hand after Daniel Sturridge routinely nodded home Sheyi Ojo’s telling cross.
The youngster, who impressed on his first Premier League start, was substituted at the break to confused faces all around Anfield, but his replacement in Divock Origi quickly cleared things up when he nodded in one of his own five minutes after being introduced to the fray before his shot-cum-cross eluded the attentions of Haugaard as the Belgian doubled up and the Reds heaped the misery on a haggard looking Stoke.
“We conceded two sloppy goals in the first half, but we were probably the better team. Then, within 20 minutes of the restart, we were 4-1 down and the game had gone. We conceded goals at crucial times,” said Potters captain Ryan Shawcross, speaking to the press and stretching the truth somewhat in is post-match interview. “It is frustrating. It was bad defending. We have to work on it. We’re conceding too many goals,” he continued. “We knew they’d change the team, because they have Europa League commitments and we hoped to take advantage. But they were too good for us.”
Seven changes to the starting eleven saw Martin Skrtel partner Kolo Toure in the heart of defence while youngster Keven Stewart, who was excellent on the day, joined Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Ojo in the starting eleven as Klopp kept one eye on the meeting with Dortmund later in the week.
While it’s still a long ways off, winning the Europa League remains Liverpool’s best chance of securing Champions League football next season — and based on their display yesterday, they could very well go on and do just that. The Potters may have been poor on the day, but Liverpool weren’t above taking full advantage as Sturridge got back among the goals and Origi once again showed that players who have bushels of potential can fulfill it if given time. While all of that will bode well for their chances of booking a place in the semi-finals, some sloppy passing in the middle of the park coupled with conceding yet again from a set-piece remain causes for concern and matters that Klopp will have address before his old side roll in to town on Thrusday.