Liverpool closed the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea to six points and moved to second in the league after maintaining their unbeaten home record with a convincing victory over Stoke.
Jon Walters headed home at his near post, highlighting the home team’s vulnerability in defence, to give Stoke an early lead.
But Liverpool responded positively after a disjointed start, with Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino scoring before the break as the hosts took the lead.
Jurgen Klopp’s men made sure of the win, which moves them one point ahead of third-placed Manchester City – whom they play on New Year’s Eve – when Giannelli Imbula directed Divock Origi’s cross into his own net.
Adding gloss to the scoreline was Daniel Sturridge, who scored his first league goal of the season – and Liverpool’s 100th under manager Klopp.
Liverpool recover after iffy start
There was a period in the first half when Liverpool looked exposed. Simon Mignolet, again preferred in goal to Loris Karius as Klopp stuck to the team which started the derby win against Everton, should have saved Walters’ close-range header.
It was a mistake which will once again open up the debate over who should be the manager’s first-choice goalkeeper. But, in attack, the Reds were as quick, incisive and destructive as they have been throughout the season.
Liverpool have now scored 86 league goals in 2016 – their most in a calendar year since 1985 – and they ended the match having made a total of 20 shots, six of which were on target.
Once the impressive Lallana equalised, sweeping home from an acute angle and punishing Glen Johnson for his failure to clear the danger inside his six-yard box, Liverpool were completely dominant.
And there was a sense of inevitability when Firmino, allowed to turn unchallenged in the box, scored – his low shot bouncing in off the far and then near post.
As has been the case for the majority of this season, Sadio Mane and James Milner were key cogs, with the latter’s tireless runs down the left flank giving Stoke an extra worry.
Stoke in another sticky run
Stoke, now winless in four league games, caused Liverpool’s defence a number of problems in the first half, with former players Peter Crouch and Joe Allen instrumental for the Potters.
Crouch, starting for the first time since August, held the ball up well while the tigerish Allen played like a man eager to prove a point to the club that sold him to Stoke for £13m in the summer. Indeed, the Welshman could have doubled the visiting team’s advantage but instead forced a fine save from Mignolet.
Stoke sought to contain their opponents by attacking them and it was a ploy which worked until Liverpool levelled and Mark Hughes’ men suddenly found themselves penned inside their own half as the hosts confidently sprayed the ball around.
Defensive errors contributed to Stoke’s downfall, with Johnson culpable for the equaliser, while the visitors ceded possession too easily in their own half for Liverpool’s third and Ryan Shawcross’ clumsy pass back to goalkeeper Lee Grant allowed Sturridge a clear run through on goal within a minute of his introduction.
Having recovered from a terrible start to the season, Stoke now find themselves in another sticky run, though there is a seven-point cushion between them and the relegation zone.
Man of the Match – James Milner (Liverpool)
Sturridge makes an impact
- Daniel Sturridge netted his first league goal of the season, with what was his 21st attempt on goal.
- Sturridge scored 56 seconds after coming onto the field, the fourth fastest substitute goal in the Premier League this season.
- Stoke have conceded seven goals in their past two away games in the Premier League, just one fewer than they conceded in their first seven away trips of the season (8).
- Roberto Firmino has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other Liverpool player (15).
- The Reds conceded the first goal in a Premier League game at Anfield for the first time since May (1-1 against Chelsea).
- Jonathan Walters’ header that opened the scoring was the 500th goal of the current Premier League season.
- The Potters have scored more own goals than any other Premier League team this season (3), with all three coming away from home.
More to follow.