Hardly revenge, but a win is a win and Liverpool are Stoked with three points

Coutinho and co. celebrate an undeserved winner. (Getty)

Coutinho and co. celebrate an undeserved winner. (Getty)

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exciting, and it wasn’t deserved. If football allowed negative goals for boredom, this game would’ve finished -5 plays -5. Well, -5 plays -4 thanks to Philippe Coutinho’s 86th minute wonder strike that gave Brendan Rodgers’ side all three points to start the new season. Certainly beats getting hammered 6-1, at least.

I could go on and on about how it’s the start of a new era without Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, but no-one associated with the club should care about that. They’ve gone and now we need to focus on the season ahead.

In truth, we looked okay at times. Stoke, kings of the transfer market, also looked okay. Both teams will want more than ‘okay’ in the future, but it’s opening day and there’s still months of football left to play. However given the heaps of signings both clubs have made in the last month, this game should not have been the snooze-fest it was. Two hours of my life I’ll never get back…

Stoke City player ratings

Jack Butland – Had literally nothing to do all game but made a decent save for the cameras from Martin Skrtel. Absolutely powerless to prevent Coutinho’s winner. 6

Glen Johnson – Assume you didn’t watch the game. Take the idea you have of how you think Glen Johnson played. That is how he played. Uninspired as ever and scooped a good chance from just 12 yards out into the next county. 5

Geoff Cameron – More often than not, he beat Christian Benteke in the air and generally marshalled the defence. 6

Marc Muniesa – Made a wonderful challenge on Jordon Ibe in the box, but was invisible otherwise. 6

Erik Pieters – Had nothing to do, really. Got injured after 45 mins, well before Liverpool got anything going upfront. 4

Glenn Whelan – Could’ve been replaced by a dog on its hind legs and it wouldn’t have made a difference. 4

Charlie Adam – Another ex-Anfield player and another load of rubbish. Not back to his usual self with the ball yet, but without it he was; should’ve been booked for pushing James Milner and was booked for a poor tackle later on. 5

Jon Walters – Still in Joe Gomez’ pocket. 3

Marco van Ginkel – touched the ball maybe twice in attacking positions. Had a goalbound effort blocked but was ineffectual otherwise. 5

Ibrahim Afellay – Not quite the debut the ex-Barcelona man wanted, but showed signs of what he can do. Had a well-hit volley blocked by Nathaniel Clyne early on. 6

Mame Biram Diouf – Won a header. Maybe. Was offside a couple of times. Peter Crouch would’ve been the better option. 5

Substitutes

Philipp Wollscheid (Pieters, 46) – Dealt with Liverpool well but didn’t have much to do outside of normal defensive duties. 6

Steve Sidwell (Adam, 78) – Had no idea he played for Stoke and may as well not have done today. 4

Peter Odemwingie (Afellay, 78) – See above. 4

Liverpool player ratings

Simon Mignolet – Made a couple of good saves and looked assured. Didn’t drop any crosses, which is another bonus. 6

Nathaniel Clyne – Solid defensively and going forward minus some poor passing, and made a great block to deny Afellay. 6

Martin Skrtel – Showed why he’s Liverpool’s best defender and didn’t put a foot wrong all day. Not that he had much to do, mind. 6

Dejan Lovren – Was lucky not to be sent off for an elbow on Diouf, and had Liverpool’s first shot on goal of the season just after the hour. 5

Joe Gomez – Applied himself excellently for a young lad, looked confident all game. Made a sloppy pass across the box but was superb otherwise. 7

Jordan Henderson – Ran and passed well. 5

James Milner – As above but on a booking for a foul on Adam that was not a foul. 5

Philippe Coutinho – Blazed one into orbit before curling in a beauty. Was poor aside from that, though. 6

Adam Lallana – Went for a pint after 10 minutes. 3

Jordon Ibe – Not too bad but went to the Raheem Sterling School of How To Only Use Your Right Foot. 6

Christian Benteke – Lost a lot in the air but made a couple of decent runs. 5

Substitutes

Emre Can (Lallana, 63) – Bossed the midfield with his gorgeous hair and general attractiveness. The Stoke players were probably put off by his mere presence. 6

Roberto Firmino (Ibe, 78) – Showed flashes of what he can do but 12 minutes isn’t enough. 5

Referee

Anthony Taylor – Made some horrible decisions throughout but just about retained control of it. In fairness, he was probably asleep. 4

Liverpool 2012/13 season – the final verdict

Unfathomable. That sounds like a good word to describe the 2012/13 season of the once mighty Liverpool FC. After suffering in obscurity for the past few seasons since the departure of fan favourite Rafa Benitez, the Reds look like they might be on their way back to the big-time.

The sacking of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was met with some disdain by the Anfield faithful, but wasn’t too surprising. Dalglish brought home the Carling Cup with a thrilling penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City, Liverpool’s first trophy since the FA Cup in 2006. He also lead the team to the FA Cup final against Chelsea, however the Blues prevailed 2-1.

Unfortunately for Anfield’s favourite Scotsman, he could only guide the team into 8th position in the league, their worst finish since the 1993/94 season. This wasn’t considered good enough by owners FSG (Fenway Sports Group), and they showed Dalglish the door. Of course, minutes after the news broke that he was gone, rumours of who the new manager was going to be flew around.

Martinez. Benitez. Mourinho. Just 3 of the names tossed around on various betting websites and Twitter. Martinez, Wigan Athletic manager, was even photographed in Miami talking to FSG owner John W. Henry, sparking speculation that a deal was just around the corner. Benitez, on the other hand, had his odds down to 1/2 at one point. Soon other names began to pop up, including Van Gaal and eventual successor Brendan Rodgers.

Rodgers had guided newly-promoted Swansea City to an impressive 12th place in their debut in the Premier League, using his philosophy of passing football to play around teams they had no right to get a result from. This earned him plaudits from across the footballing world, and caused Swansea City to be hailed “the next Barcelona” by many pundits.

In June 2012, Rodgers was officially hired by Liverpool. The response from fans was mixed, to say the least. Some fans were happy at the appointment, hoping a young manager would be able to create a legacy at the club, in the same way Ferguson did at Man United, or Paisley did at Liverpool. Some fans were sceptical, hoping that a new manager would get them back to the big time, but also wary of his lack of managing experience.

Other fans, safe to say, were not happy. They thought his season at Swansea was a fluke and that his age would mean he wouldn’t be able to gain respect from players, in the same way that Andre Villas-Boas had failed to garner any during his short tenure at Chelsea.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how the season panned out for Liverpool FC.

When I look back to the first 5 games of the season, only one word springs to mind: poor. All the positive energy surrounding the appointment of Rodgers was duly wiped away with a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of a superb West Brom. This was followed up with a 2-2 draw at home to champions Manchester City, which could have been won by either side, but was a massive improvement from the Reds.

The next game was an awful 2-0 loss at home to Arsenal, and another poor performance mean they could only escape with a point at Sunderland in a 1-1 draw. Then came the big one: Manchester United at home. The game was effectively done just 39 minutes in when Jonjo Shelvey was controversially sent off for a foul on Jonny Evans. Despite falling behind, United outclassed their 10-man opponents and took all 3 points back to Old Trafford.

Finally, after 6 games, Liverpool registered a win with an excellent 5-2 win at Norwich. Carrow Road was the site of a famous Luis Suarez hat trick last season, and this time was no different as Suarez once again registered a 3 goal haul. This was the start of an 8 game unbeaten run for Liverpool, but only 3 of these were victories. Draws against Stoke, Everton, Newcastle, Chelsea and Swansea were intertwined with victories against Reading, which included Raheem Sterling’s first senior goal, and a wonderful victory against Wigan.

The run came to an abrupt end at the hands of Gareth Bale and Spurs, who beat the Reds 2-1 at White Hart Lane. The next 9 games summed up the season, and justified my “unfathomable” comment earlier. A 1-0 win against Southampton was followed up by a superb come-from-behind 3-2 victory at West Ham, in which Shelvey scored the winner playing in the ‘false 9’ role due to Suarez being suspended and Borini being injured. Liverpool then came back down to Earth with a baffling 3-1 home loss to relegation candidates Aston Villa, but restored parity with a 4-0 home victory over Fulham. The match against Fulham marked Stewart Downing’s first Premier League goal and assist for Liverpool.

Another surprising result followed, this time a 3-1 loss at Stoke, but Liverpool then recorded two Suarez-inspired back-to-back 3-0 wins over QPR and Sunderland. A controversial 2-1 win over Conference side Mansfield Town followed, with Suarez being accused of handball during the build-up to his goal. New £12 million signing Daniel Sturridge scored on his debut in that game, and then on his Premier League debut a week later in the 2-1 away loss to Manchester United.

Sturridge then became the first Liverpool player since Ray Kennedy in 1974 to score in his first 3 matches when he scored the fourth goal in a 5-0 drubbing over Norwich City. Back-to-back 2-2 draws followed, away to Manchester City and then Arsenal, both of which games could have been won. Liverpool dominated in both, but couldn’t hold on for the victory in either match. Another dominant performance against West Brom could not be turned into a victory, with Gerrard missing a penalty in a 2-0 loss.

A series of fantastic results came Liverpool’s way over the next 3 games, including their first win against a top half club in the season with a 5-0 win over a short-handed Swansea, who had more than one eye on the Capital One Cup final against Bradford City a week later. This game marked the first goal by new signing Philippe Coutinho.

Luis Suarez scored a hat trick a 2 weeks later to comfortably dispatch relegation threatened Wigan Athletic, and then a very impressive 3-2 win over Spurs followed. A 3-1 loss in their next game at Southampton proved to be the final blip in Liverpool’s season.

Liverpool got revenge at Aston Villa with a 2-1 win in the Midlands, and then a series of draws followed, including 2 0-0s at home to West Ham and away to Reading. The most controversial game of the season came next, a tasty 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea. Luis Suarez scored a 97th minute equalizer, however he probably should not have been on the pitch after he appeared to bite Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic on the arm earlier on in the game. Suarez was subsequently banned for 10 games.

With 23 goals under his belt so far in the season, there were worries that Liverpool would struggle for goals. These rumours were quickly dispelled with an outstanding 6-0 victory at Newcastle United. An entertaining 0-0 draw vs Everton meant that 6th place was all but gone, but Liverpool finished the season in fine form with a Sturridge hat trick destroying Fulham 3-1, and then a Coutinho goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory over relegated QPR on the final day, which was the 707th and final game of Jamie Carragher’s illustrious career.

7th place in the Premier League isn’t exactly the return that Liverpool fans wanted, but there were many positive signs that were very encouraging. The coup of Coutinho for a mere £8.5 million from Inter seems like a bargain, as he scored 3 goals and got 7 assists in just 13 games. Another signing, Daniel Sturridge, who scored 10 goals and got 5 assists in 14 games.

During 2013, Liverpool lost just 3 games. This is likely due to the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho, as well as the presence of club legends Gerrard and Carragher who really stepped up during the latter half of the season.

I think the poor showing in the first half of the season can be put down to the players still trying get used to Rodgers’ new style, and also Rodgers’ tinkering of the line up on a weekly basis meant some players were unsettled.

Despite the criticism they received after many poor showings last season, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing had fantastic seasons. Henderson bossed the midfield and showed that there is a successor to Gerrard in the midst, and Downing gave a great option on the wings with his ability to cross and cut inside at will.

Player of the Season: Luis Suarez. Quite simply brilliant in every game he played in. 23 league goals and 30 in all competitions speaks for itself. Not forgetting his 8 assists in the league, he was just inspiring in every game, and he needed to be. After loaning out Andy Carroll to West Ham and losing Fabio Borini to injury early on in the season, Suarez had to be a 20+ goal scorer to give Liverpool any chance of a respectable season.

Overall grade: B-

Started off very poorly, but an outstanding end to the season turned Liverpool from a potential laughing stock into serious top 4 contenders next season.