A Premier League mismatch saw Champions League contenders Liverpool take on relegation battlers Stoke City at Anfield. A goal fest must have been predicted by many considering Stoke’s dismal run in the past few months.
But much to Liverpool’s despair, the Potters shut down the Reds and managed a 0-0 draw to stay alive in the relegation battle.
It was a bore draw with Stoke happy to sit back and defend while Liverpool looked lethargic going forward.
Clear-cut chances were few for both the sides as Mohamed Salah missed a one on one chance in the first half (the best chance of the game) to give Liverpool the lead. Stoke battled on and earned a hard-fought fight.
On that note, let’s analyze the goalless draw at Anfield in greater detail and discuss the five key talking points that emerged from the game:
Jurgen Klopp rings in the changes
With the all-important second leg of the Champions League semi-final coming up on Wednesday, it was expected that Liverpool would rest as many core players as possible.
Though Mohamed Salah could not be rested because of a knock to Sadio Mane, Liverpool did make five changes to the team that beat AS Roma.
When the Liverpool team was announced, it looked as if Jurgen Klopp had decided to play in a 3-4-3 formation, with Gomez, Van Dijk and Klavan as the central defenders and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno as the fullbacks.
But Liverpool started the game in their traditional 4-3-3 system with Alexander-Arnold playing in midfield. Danny Ings replaced Sadio Mane in the front three.
James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne were introduced in the second half but could not help the home side break the deadlock.
But more importantly for the Reds, they avoided any new injury scare ahead of the second leg and will have a number of their first team players fresh and ready for the battle of Rome.
Eric Pieters keeps Salah in check
Against the worst defence in the Premier League (65 goals conceded this season), Mohamed Salah must have been licking his lips to improve his goal tally. But he came up against the Stoke fullback Eric Pieters who, barring one incident early in the first half, never let Salah go.
Pieters man marked Salah until the Egyptian was playing on the right flank and kept his influence on the game to a bare minimum.
Unlike many teams or defenders this season, Pieters never gave Salah the chance to use his pace and using his physicality, kept the prolific scorer in check.
Pieters also used all the dirty tricks in the book to irritate the forward and make him frustrated.
He pulled his shirt, literally held his hand on one instance to stop him and gave him a rough treatment. Pieters, in the end, was successful in his methods as Salah was then made to play as a striker to have more influence on the game.
Liverpool were denied a stonewall penalty
With one eye on European duties, Liverpool did not hit second gear and found it hard to get behind a resolute Stoke defence.
This was proved by the fact that the Reds attempted 20 shots this evening and only had two of them on target.
But late in the game, Liverpool did manage to get in a dangerous position with Mohamed Salah playing a neat pass to Georginio Wijnaldum.
The Dutchman wanted to play a pass across the game with Firmino and Moreno lurking.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s pass hit Erik Pieters on the hand. Liverpool players were appealing for a penalty vociferously only to be denied one by referee Andre Marriner.
It was a stonewall penalty which should have been spotted at least by the linesman.
Liverpool would feel hard done by as the players were seen arguing with the referee after the final whistle.
Klopp avoided a handshake with the referee at the end, giving away what he felt about the referee’s performance.
This result may have big repercussions on the league table
With back to back draws against relegation-threatened sides like West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City, Liverpool have offered Chelsea a way back into the top four race.
The two teams meet at Stamford Bridge next week, a game which will effectively decide the fourth-placed team in the league.
Liverpool now have a massive week ahead of them which will either make or break their season.
The second leg against Roma followed by a trip to Chelsea will determine Liverpool’s fate of an important trophy this season and the chance to play in that very same competition next season if they fail to win it in Rome or in Kiev.
The Reds are nine points ahead of Chelsea at the moment but have played two more games than the Blues.
If Chelsea do win their games in hand and also defeat Liverpool at home next week, it will all boil down to the last game of the season.
A tense scenario which Liverpool would love to avoid!
As for Stoke, this result will give the Potters a much-needed belief going into their last two matches.
They play Crystal Palace and Swansea City in their final two fixtures, both of which may look winnable for the Potters after today’s result.