Dec 26, 2012, 5:10 PM EST
If Stoke City’s capable of putting on displays like Wednesday’s at the Britannia, Tony Pulis’s entire approach will need to be question. The Potters’ manager usually employs a rugged, defensive style that sacrifices aesthetics for the practicalities, recognizing a squad built around size and strength should stick to what it does best. On Boxing Day, they were compelled to change.
With Liverpool going up in the second minute, Stoke were forced out of their shell. Once there, the Potters proved capable of getting through Liverpool’s thin midfield and at a central defense that is proving increasingly problematic for Brendan Rodgers. The result was offensive explosion, the league’s worst attack depositing three goals behind Pepe Reina en route to a 3-1 win.
It was difficult to tell if the result was more Stoke’s quality or Liverpool’s failings. As in most games, both the winner’s virtues and loser’s errors were on display. The Potters showed a ability going forward they rarely endeavor to display, with John Walters’ two goals earning him deserved Man of the Match honors. Simultaneously, Reds’ central defenders Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, less than two weeks after struggling in a loss to Aston Villa, continued to show their limitations.
Both players are international quality defenders, but paired in the middle of Liverpool’s defense, they often seem too similar to complement each other. When Jamie Carragher was capable of starting in the middle, Liverpool had a central half that could do more of the tracking. Without him, Agger and Skrtel are often left a step behind.
Stoke’s first goal saw Agger slow getting under a header which, put back toward goal, allowed Walters to equalize after a Skrtel slip. Stoke’s second allowed target man Kenwyne Jones to put the Potters in front, while Agger failed to close down Walters ahead of the final goal.
But only so much time can be spent dwelling on Liverpool’s failings before Stoke’s best performance in two years ges overshadowed. Walters complemented his trademark industry with surprisingly clinical finishing. The much-maligned Jones was able to compete with Liverpool’s physical defenders, while Steve N’Zonzi exhibited a class on the ball the midfielder’s rarely has license to show.
The only down point was Ryan Shawcross’s early foul on Luis Suárez, conceding a penalty kick for Steven Gerrard. Ultimately, the early Liverpool goal helped Stoke. Forced to go get a goal, Stoke played with a quality few knew they had.
You have to trust Tony Pulis knows his squad best, but after Wednesday’s show, many will rightfully ask why Stoke can’t play that way more often. They were markedly better than a team which came into the day eighth in the Premier League, and while you wouldn’t recommend Stoke try to go blow-for-blow against teams like Tottenham (who they frustrated to a standoff last week), against most of the Premier League, a performance like today’s gets full points.
Maybe Pulis knows today was an aberration, but given how infrequently Stoke try to show their quality, it’s natural for onlookers to have doubts. With Pulis unlikely to change a successful approach any time soon, all we can do is hope the Potters give up more early goals, forcing them to play a more progressive style.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:08 PM EST
With both newcomers and familiar faces, the 2014 MLS season features a jumble of quality at the front of attacks across the league.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:45 PM EST
Former coach Pia Sundhage, in charge of the USWNT when their streak began, guided Sweden to a 1-0 victory in the Algarve Cup – the USMNT’s first defeat in two years.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:03 PM EST
It once seemed incomprehensible that Leo Messi could leave Barcelona. But is it a possibility?
Mar 7, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Can Kansas City start their defense of the MLS Cup off on the right foot, grabbing a win at Seattle?
Mar 7, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
When Jonathan Walters converted his match-winner, there was only one song on the Stoke supporters minds: Delilah.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:43 AM EST
The regular MLS referees will be locked out of the weekend’s opening games, meaning the league will turn to qualified replacement officials.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:14 AM EST
The Manchester United manager penned a letter to season ticket holders praising their loyalty and promising the club will be great once more.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:25 AM EST
Juventus insist the midfielder isn’t for sale, but with at least three big names sniffing around, will the Italian giants be tempted?
Mar 7, 2014, 9:40 AM EST
Will either Cardiff or Fulham get the three points they so desperately need?
Mar 7, 2014, 8:43 AM EST
Don’t worry, Leo fans: Messi’s reaction during Argentina’s match against Romania was perfectly normal.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:51 AM EST
Will Spurs be able to break the spell José Mourinho has cast over Stamford Bridge?
Mar 7, 2014, 7:01 AM EST
Will United really pay such a high price for young Luke Shaw?
Mar 7, 2014, 2:26 AM EST
Joe Prince-Wright and Mike Prindiville discuss this weekend’s meeting relegation-embattled Cardiff City and Fulham.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:12 AM EST
What definitely will not happen in the upcoming Major League Soccer season.
Mar 6, 2014, 8:45 PM EST
Who’s hot and who’s not? It’s all change in the latest PL Power Rankings, as sides shuffle with 10 games to go:
Mar 6, 2014, 7:54 PM EST
The Supporters’ Shield winners could be without Henry, Cahill, and Olave on Saturday in Vancouver.
Mar 6, 2014, 6:39 PM EST
Atlanta will have to stumble to miss out on expansion, with Minneapolis also looking like a favorite to snare on of the league’s next franchises.
Mar 6, 2014, 5:23 PM EST
No. 1 was easy. It’s 2 through 10 that were hard.
Mar 6, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria will help the U.S. prepare for Brazil.
Mar 6, 2014, 3:18 PM EST
The Black and Red give their newest star the deal Seattle couldn’t.
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