Life after Torres as Suarez delivers
Published 03/02/2011 | 05:00
Life goes on. Life after Fernando Torres certainly goes on for Liverpool. Before the opening whistle, Andy Carroll was saluted. At the final whistle, Luis Suarez had his name chanted after contributing Liverpool's second.
Adding to Raul Meireles' opener, Suarez's goal was greeted with euphoria.
Liverpool's director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, gave high fives all round while a huge smile filled the face of Carroll, who was sitting alongside Comolli. The £35m man could form a productive partnership with Suarez, the £22m man.
On a night of positives for Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish's side also enjoyed a third successive clean sheet, testament to the influence of Steve Clarke at Melwood.
Martin Kelly's excellence down the right was another upbeat feature while Meireles' good form under Dalglish, making it three goals under the new manager, was also warmly acknowledge by Anfield. Until Meireles intervened two minutes into the second half, and then Suarez arrived to great fanfare, Liverpool had laboured to break through.
There was plenty of passing moves, a reflection on how much the players are absorbing Dalglish's philosophy, but there was a real lack of a cutting edge.
As the Stoke fans inquired "where's your Torres gone?", Liverpool's contorted starting configuration indicated the problems faced by Dalglish. His system involved three centre-backs, a right-back in Glen Johnson as a left wing-back and a left-back in Fabio Aurelio in central midfield. Dirk Kuyt, usually used on the right, played the lone front-runner.
Help is at hand. Carroll strolled into Anfield 90 minutes before kick-off, greeted raucously by the Liverpool fans outside reception and immediately met by John Aldridge, a reminder of the club's illustrious striking past. The man bought to replace Ian Rush extended a handshake and a chirpy "good luck" to the man bought to replace Torres.
Carroll seemed completely unfazed by all the attention, waving confidently to the Kop when paraded on the pitch beforehand. Anfield's DJ had a field day, spinning the warmest of welcomes, including The Eagles' 'New Kid In Town'.
Two new kids actually. Suarez also appeared relaxed as he warmed up, earning an ovation from Liverpool fans midway through the scoreless first half. As Suarez jogged towards the Kop, Liverpool sprang fully into life, much of their new vigour embodied in the raiding figure of right-back Martin Kelly.
Some of his crosses were superb, the first bringing a marvellous chance for Kuyt. The Dutchman had ghosted in ahead of Andy Wilkinson, meeting Kelly's delivery with the firmest of headers. Somehow, Asmir Begovic flung up a hand and kept the ball out. Robert Huth completed the clearance.
Back came Kelly again, creating havoc. His cross reached Steven Gerrard, who chested the ball in to the onrushing Meireles. The ball bounced loose, allowing Gerrard another chance to cause Stoke problems.
Liverpool's captain headed the ball to Kuyt, who was being too closely marked by Danny Higginbotham to get away his shot first time. Juggling the ball over Higginbotham, Kuyt leapt up and met the dropping ball on the volley, although it disappeared harmlessly over Begovic's crossbar.
A disappointing half then assumed a nasty air when Huth went in two-footed on Kelly. Having left the ground, however fractionally, the Stoke captain could have done substantial damage to Kelly had the Liverpool youngster had his studs planted.
Fortunately, Kelly rode most of the challenge, although he was still left crumpled on the halfway line. Liverpool players complained loudly and few would have been surprised had Andy Taylor, the referee, brandished red but Huth escaped with a yellow.
Liverpool seemed to grow in belief, and passing fluency. A quick-fire move involving Lucas and Gerrard, scything through Stoke, culminated in Kuyt testing Begovic. As the second half unfolded, Daniel Agger continued to make runs upfield, one crudely ended by Salif Diao. Moments later, Gerrard was thudding a shot into Stoke's box, the ball eventually reaching Meireles via Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
The Portuguese midfielder's response was brilliant, the ball driven unerringly past Begovic as the Kop leapt for joy.
Soon it was John Carew's opportunity to clatter Agger, a little inter-Scandinavian dispute breaking out.
Liverpool were hardly angels and Johnson very deliberately jumped into Wilkinson. And then came Suarez, afforded a deafening reception and swiftly welcomed to English football by Wilkinson, who left the Uruguayan inspecting the Anfield grass.
Suarez took up position on the left of Liverpool's front-line, leaving the centre to Kuyt and initially focusing on running at Wilkinson. He was soon on the move, trying his luck on the right and appealing for a routine challenge on him. Gerrard was clearly keen to welcome the new boy, electing to send Suarez into the box when the captain was in shooting country in front of the Kop.
Stoke began to threaten, particularly when Ricardo Fuller charged on, but the force remained with Liverpool. Suarez's movement continued to impress, the striker soon making his mark. Released through on goal by Kuyt, Suarez rounded Begovic but underhit his shot. Wilkinson, covering well, raced back, sliding in and diverted the ball onto the post. The Kop stood in expectation, willing the ball to cross the line, which it eventually, obligingly did. (© The Daily Telegraph)