Was this Jekyll or Hyde? I suppose that depends on which side of the supporters’ fence you sit. Either way, Liverpool played like an entirely different beast against Stoke City today. Maybe it was the home crowd, maybe it was the wake-up call from Tottenham (who looked outstanding again today), maybe it was something behind the scenes. Whatever the motivation, Liverpool played passionately for the first time this season, pre- or otherwise.
It took me about 20 minutes to find a stream, and by the time I did, Torres was already 15 minutes clear of ending his very brief EPL scoring drought. I wish I could have seen it. What I did see was exactly the sort of toughness Benitez questioned about him — a collision in the 37th left ‘Nando with a nasty gash over his eye and blood all over his face. Within a few minutes he was already firing on goal again. The Guardian ripped Benitez for going public about his star striker’s difficulties with physical defenses, and I was similarly irritated. I guess this shows that, when it comes to mind games, In Rafa We Trust.
But let’s talk about the man of the match in my opinion:
Glen Johnson has played All-World soccer these first two games, and today’s goal was hardly the best part. He’s a maestro with the ball, cutting up defenders one-on-one to create opportunities for his teammates. His combination of sharp stutters and explosiveness from a near stand-still give defenders fits. I honestly don’t know whether you should body up on him or keep him in front of you; either way, Glen Johnson can kill you. If you haven’t seen his feed of Ngog in the 93rd, just watch how easily he gets open.
But he plays defense, right? Surely his cover must be suffering due to playing so far forward. Bzzzt. Johnson saved another sure goal from an opponent today with a brilliant clearance, and from what I could tell on the stream, he never let a Stoke player behind him once the ball was in his half. Johnson even sliced up players with his tricks just to open space to clear the ball in his end. Maybe he can’t keep up this level of excellence all season, but thus far he’s been our superstar.
It was nice to see Kuyt get on the board; he also had several nice penetrations and shots today, but his goal was entirely due to Steven Gerrard. Charging on the right, Gerrard pulled off a sick stop-spin feed across the face of the goal. Kut’s hugging and slapping of Gerrard after putting it in showed how much he knew that score had everything to do with the captain.
Reina remained in top form. It’s one thing to stop the ball. It’s another to pull off a diving stop that also drives the ball out of harm’s way. Reina always seems to do this, and he did it again vs Stoke.
A 4-0 home win against a team we couldn’t score on in two matches last year feels good. In fact, because we drew the home game vs Stoke last season and also lost at Spurs, we’re technically ahead of last season’s point pace on a per-match basis. I realize that’s a ridiculous way of looking at it, but when the one new addition (Johnson) proves to be the fuel for a completely improved result from last season, it’s heartening.
No one can say whether Liverpool will keep this edge or revert to the hideous form from last week, but at least we saw the good side of our Reds today. Nice to know it’s still in there.