Friday 17 November 2017

Reds can’t find home comfort

Liverpool 0 Stoke 0

Chris Bascombe

The insurance premiums at Anfield must be astronomical, given the number of accidents Liverpool are suffering at home.

The worst run in 50 years last season, three consecutive defeats at the start of this one and now another frustrating draw, this time against a side adept at exposing any mental or physical fragilities.

This place used to be a fortress, now it is a tourist attraction, the visitors enjoying the hospitality far more than is healthy for local sensibilities.

Brendan Rodgers listed the unwanted records himself: two league wins at home in the calendar year; over 12 months since Liverpool won two consecutive league fixtures at Anfield.

Stoke arrived as one of the few clubs yet to benefit from Liverpool's recent habit of rolling out the red carpet to guests.

It is 53 years since they won at Anfield and their exceptional defensive performance rarely looked like ending that wait, but Tony Pulis will have relished the chance to puncture Rodgers' Kop makeover.

Rodgers said he'd be happy for Liverpool to ditch some of the guile and embrace the ugly side of football to claim more victories.

There was plenty of the unattractive on show on Merseyside -- if you want the beautiful game when Stoke roll into town, bring a DVD of someone else's matches -- but the first home Premier League win of the season continues to elude the new manager.

Liverpool hit the post three times in the second half and dominated possession with a frequency which would have left those believing football is won with impressive stat-packs salivating, but these sob stories are starting to resemble the Mills and Boon back catalogue.

When Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and, in injury-time, Martin Skrtel hit the woodwork they did so from opportunistic attempts rather than clear-cut opportunities.

There were no sitters missed, just moments of individual brilliance, and a couple of breathtaking dives, from Suarez, and the impudence of Sterling offering hope of a winner.

It was no failure of tactics or systems undermining Liverpool, just the familiar lack of a finishing touch where it matters.

Rodgers has inherited that flaw and has yet to be given the tools to remedy it, although it was suggested the lack of a 'Plan B' -- a tall striker to challenge for hopeful long balls (currently located at Upton Park, perhaps?) -- could have offered a different option.

"I don't really do the desperation thing in the last 10 minutes where you're kicking it long," said Rodgers. "When January comes we will see if we can revisit that."

The real problem is this felt like a footballing cut and paste job.

Whatever you've read about any home Liverpool performance since 2010, nothing much has changed yet.

The instruction to anyone coming to Anfield is sit tight, keep your discipline at the back and wait for your chance, which more often than not will come in Liver Bird decorated gift-wrap.


Stoke had two first-half chances courtesy of Pepe Reina's desire to prove he could deputise in the Spanish squad for Xavi rather than Iker Casillas.

Reina inexplicably pumped his goalkick into a crowded midfield area, Nuri Sahin's backpass was timid, and Charlie Adam blew his chance to inflict revenge for his summer sale by firing straight at the Spanish goalkeeper's legs.

Reina repeated the trick on 20 minutes, again casually kicking into the centre and having to scurry back to push Michael Kightly's 25-yard chip over the bar.

At that stage Stoke were imposing their physicality on a technical but still very lightweight Liverpool midfield, although the robust challenges tried the patience of referee Lee Mason.

There's no denying Stoke and Liverpool pursue vastly different football fashions.

This was like a style challenge between Gok Wan and Wurzel Gummidge, a subdued crowd only provoked into passion when it demanded the referee adopt a tougher line against the robust Stoke tackling.

There were six bookings -- all for Stoke players.

Robert Huth's was the most contentious because he was only shown yellow for preventing Suarez racing through on goal on 33 minutes. It could have been a red, although the Uruguayan still had some distance to the penalty area.

Pulis declined to comment on whether that was just, but he did appeal for Suarez's second-half dive to be highlighted.

He was right, too. The laments about the Uruguayan not getting penalties sound hollow when you see incidents such as this.

It was a reckless final act in the desperate pursuit of an elusive Anfield win, but one which merely accentuated Liverpool's lingering home discomforts these days. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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