Liverpool beat Stoke in wild contest defined by errors

Liverpool moved back into the top four with a 5-3 win over Stoke in a game that was shockingly sloppy but entertaining. Team tactics played a minor role- the defining feature of the contest was individual errors. Four of the game's goals could be blamed at least partially on individual mistakes- Liverpool's second was the result of errors from Mark Wilson and Ryan Shawcross, Stoke's second came from a poor giveaway by Jordan Henderson, Liverpool's third came from a Wilson giveaway and Stoke's third came after a poor touch from Steven Gerrard gifted Marko Arnautovic possession down the left wing. A fifth goal resulted from an unfortunate Shawcross own goal from an Aly Cissokho shot that was going well wide.

The most obvious tactical features were Stoke's pressing in midfield and their attacks down the channels that culminated in crosses into the box. In the first half Charlie Adam drifted to the right from his #10 role and Stoke looked to overload Cissokho with Adam, Jonathan Walters and Geoff Cameron overlapping from his right back spot. The graphic below shows how heavily Stoke favored attacks down the right in the opening half. The left side of the screen shows Stoke's attacking third passes, the right side shows crosses.

It was interesting then that the home side's opener came from a rare foray down the left when Arnautovic provided a well weighted cross into Peter Crouch from the left wing.

Stoke looked to press Liverpool in midfield quickly closing down Gerrard and Lucas when they got the ball in deep positions. At the beginning of the first half Liverpool seemed to be dealing comfortably with the pressure- they found spaces between the Stoke lines to play balls into Coutinho and Henderson, easily bypassing the Stoke midfield. However, as the half wore on the visitors became increasingly sloppy in possession, a fact Brendan Rodgers will likely be especially frustrated by. At 2-0 up his side had the opportunity to take control of the game and dictate the tempo. Instead they were put off by Stoke's pressing and the match became frantic. Too often Liverpool gave away possession high up the field, allowing Stoke to break forward at an underprotected defense. The graphic below shows Stoke's 17 interceptions, 7 of which occurred in Liverpool's defensive half and the bulk of which occurred in the middle third of the pitch. By comparison Liverpool's interceptions occurred in deeper areas. They had just 2 interceptions in the attacking half, one of which resulted in Sterling winning a penalty.

When in possession Stoke looked to get the ball into the channels and hit crosses into the box towards Crouch. They won 11 corners and played a remarkable 51 crosses.  

Rodgers' side was at its most dangerous on the break, particularly after the introduction of Daniel Sturridge. With Sturridge on, Liverpool had three players in Sturridge, Henderson and Raheem Sterling with the energy and pace to be dangerous on the break. For Liverpool's fourth Sturridge received an outlet pass and was able to break through the middle at pace on the counter before cleverly laying off to Suarez to tuck home. Those two players would ultimately prove the difference makers in the contest as they combined yet again for Liverpool's fifth, this time with Suarez turning provider on the break for Sturridge.

In the end this was a stereotypical English game. It was low on technical quality and poise on the ball, high on energy and commitment. The match tape won't be used by youth coaches as an example of polished, intelligent football but it did make for an entertaining spectacle for those of us that can appreciate a sloppy goalfest every now and then.