|photo by notsogoodphotography||via PhotoRee|
In which Scott finally exhales:
Simon Mignolet and Asmir Begovic put on a goalkeeping clinic during Liverpool's hosting of Stoke City last Saturday. After the Belgian initially waffled (tee hee) on a cross that Peter Crouch was able to lay off for Robert Huth to slam against the crossbar in the 8th minute, Liverpool's 'keeper was then solid throughout before foiling Jonathan Walters' attempt from the penalty spot in the game's final moments. For his part, Stoke's Bosnian only allowed one of Liverpool's 11 shots on goal to escape his considerable reach.
Only once did I seriously question Mignolet and that was when, in the 17th minute, he was far too casual with the ball at his feet and nearly had his clearance snuffed out by the rapidly approaching Stoke forward. But his save in the 42nd minute on Walters' excellent shot was simply brilliant. Unfortunately, his efforts were matched at the other end by Begovic who stood up to Jordan Henderson's effort in the 34th minute and somehow reached the youngster's shot in the 63rd minute. All that before a circus-act save on Steven Gerrard's freekick in the 79th minute.
As a Liverpool fan, the contest was enjoyable and comfortable for most of the game before frustration began to set in later on. While the final statistics show Liverpool controlled the ball 55% of the time, that's not how the game felt. Aside from against-the-run-of-play chances, the Reds really bossed proceedings until the final stages. Even so, they were unable to penetrate the penalty area during the first 10 minutes until Sturridge's first goal was waived off for him being a half-step offside from the freekick. Minutes later, Kolo Toure announced himself to Anfield with a banging header from a corner that dented the crossbar.
25 minutes in, Stoke City began to claw their way into the competition but Liverpool were still controlling tempo and possession by winning the ball back remarkably quickly. In fact, as the game wore on, that was the most noticeable aspect of Liverpool's play. It was almost as if there were a rule that whoever lost the ball had to sprint and sprint, with those nearest swarming too, until they won it back. That type of pressure led to Daniel Sturridge being with the ball at the top of the box to score a cracker by 'megging the defender and beating Begovic at the far post. Sturridge, incidentally, was excellent, running at defenders with the ball, running selflessly without the ball and just generally being a nuisance for Stoke.
Liverpool's energy and pursuit did not wane during the second half and the fact that they did not score again still perplexes me. But when I think of how brilliantly they played the ball out of the back, my fear of too few goals is somewhat mollified. The best example was in the 57th minute when Stoke had stepped up their pressure in the attacking third but Glen Johnson and Co. simply passed the ball around confidently and patiently until they could move into the other half.
If what began as a comfortable viewing experience had morphed into mild frustration, outright exasperation took over in the 87th minute when Raheem Sterling's (on for Iago Aspas) dumb high- kick resulted in a freekick in a dangerous area. On the ensuing play, Daniel Agger clearly had his arm in a position to block the ball and a penalty was rightly awarded. Only moments before I had written the words "I'll take it" in my notes, referring to the inevitable 1-0 win. With equal measures of dread and mental self-flagellation (clearly my premature note was being punished) bombarding the head now between my hands, Mignolet's heroics forced something akin to a guttural yelp to escape my tightly-squeezed orb. That the Belgian went the right way and saved was excellent, but that he then rose again to loom large enough to parry away the follow-up effort was nothing short of brilliant. And after he recovered from the aggressive congratulatory back-patting, administered by his teammates, that bordered on assault, Simon known as Mignolet surely felt the warm collective embrace of a grateful Kop.
The Liverpool of last year would have found a way to tie this game and give up a valuable two points, as they did against Manchester City, etc. Should we read too much into their first game of this season in which they did not self-immolate? Maybe not. But I will. Top 4 all the way. And we don't need Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa or Willian to do it.
This is farlieonfootie for August 23.
This is farlieonfootie for August 23.