It’s three wins on the bounce and Liverpool are back in to second place going in to the crucial New Years Eve meeting with Manchester City after coming from behind to beat Stoke City at Anfield earlier today.
Falling behind to a Jonathan Walters header during a frantic opening, the Reds quickly found their footing and went in to the break in the lead after a well taken Adam Lallana strike restored parity and Roberto Firmino’s composed effort that beat Potters ‘keeper Lee Grant and hit both posts before nestling comfortably in the back of the net. Once they found their rhythm, Jurgen Klopp’s side never did slow down and before the final whistle Divock Origi would force Giannelli Imbula to turn his raking ball across the area into his own net and a poor back-pass from Ryan Shawcross would tee up Daniel Sturridge to claim his first Premier League goal of the season as Liverpool made sure it was a Merry Christmas on Merseyside.
Sandwiched between the trip to Goodison Park and the showdown with City, there was a lot of talk about this result being a forgone conclusion, but in the early stages at least, that was far from the case. Stoke boss Mark Hughes looked to sorted out a system that would not only match the Reds ever present intensity, but also nullify their ability to play from the back. Making his first appearance at Anfield since moving to the Potteries during the summer, Joe Allen looked particularly lively in the first period, but given the opportunity to put his side ahead by two, the Welshman saw his low shot well saved by Simon Mignolet before the match turned in favour of his old employers.
“Early on they put us under pressure and we struggled to deal with the long ball,” explained Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. “They got the goal but we adapted well towards the end of the first half. The start wasn’t great but overall after the goal we dominated,” continued the skipper. “It doesn’t matter about everyone else (title rivals). We are just focused on what we need. Today was a big test and every win is a good result,” he added, bristling at the suggestion that other results influenced their performance. “We now have to focus on the next game and we have a another tough one coming up against City – that is the next challenge.”
And the next challenge will be one that’s far more substantial. Again, this wasn’t a match where the points were in the bag before kick-off — we learned that the hard way against both Burnley and AFC Bournemouth — but in the end the Reds got both what they deserved and everyone expected. Which, of course, is absolutely perfect. After Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all won on Boxing Day, anything less than three-points would have been a massive stumble.
This isn’t when the season is decided, but it’s the time when title challenges can fall by the wayside. Ahead of a packed January, this is the perfect time to be building our momentum back up — now all we have to do is keep our balance.