Kenny Dalglish, Luis Suarez Prove Liverpool Won’t Miss Fernando Torres

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Kenny Dalglish, Luis Suarez Prove Liverpool Won't Miss Fernando TorresThe level of anticipation couldn’t have been greater. Just a short while remained until Luis Suarez‘s debut at Anfield was set to be upon us.

Then, Kenny Dalglish revealed his starting 11, a unit more ostensibly defensive than anything Roy Hogdson could even dream of — six players usually found in Liverpool’s back four to be on the pitch, with Suarez left on the bench. The selections were so confusing that it was nearly impossible to know what Liverpool’s shape would even be: a 4-4-1-1? 4-5-1? 3-3-3-1? 5-4-1?

Let’s just say that Dalglish knew what he was doing.

The 5-4-1, featuring fullbacks Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly being granted the freedom of midfielders to rove forward down the flanks and Dirk Kuyt reliving his Eredivisie days at center forward worked masterfully, bringing out the very best of each of the unconventionally placed players.

In fact, the tactics were perfectly suited for the challenges that Stoke presents, physicality, aerial dominance and deep, disciplined defensive lines. So, while having three center backs would normally be considered laughable tactics, against Stoke, doing so completely neutralized the Potters’ penchant for longballing to their tall target men — John Carew in this case — and allowed Kelly and Johnson to dominate wide areas going forward without much worry for their responsibilities at the back.

Going forward, Dalglish’s amorphous, creative midfield quartet of Lucas, Fabio Aurelio, Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles was able to outclass the slower, less skillful Stoke group, and with Kuyt, a scrappy, creative, tall target serving as a high fulcrum for the attack, Liverpool ultimately was able to win and keep enough possession to create chances.

After an opening 15 minutes that saw Sotirios Kyrgiakos nearly net a header off a corner and mostly disjointed play otherwise, Liverpool came into the match, executing some of their most creative passing of the season — despite opponents who simply tackle everything. The whole side was moving without the ball expertly — the only way to get past a side that closes down so quickly — and by the middle of the first half, Liverpool was thoroughly raiding Stoke’s side of the pitch. The scoreline was 0-0 at half time, but only for an Asmir Begovic highlight reel in goal. The Reds enjoyed 72 percent of the possession during the period despite the even scoreline, a figure Barcelona usually doesn’t even near.

In the opening moments of the second half, Liverpool was rewarded for its endeavor, as Meireles finally launched a shot that Begovic had no chance of saving.

Then, on came Suarez, with just under half an hour to play.

His first few minutes on the pitch were somewhat anxious. He ran all over the place trying to get a touch, but couldn’t quite get the ball at his feet in space, and he found himself going to ground at the hands of Stoke’s physical aerial challenges. Quickly, though, he came into the game, making space for others with some tricky touches down the left flank and nearly opening up Martin Skrtel with a brilliant back-heel in the area. Then, he began coming all the way to the right side, too, and back to the Liverpool half, doing whatever he could to be a part of the action. 

In one moment, it paid off. A wayward ball bounding through midfield found its way towards Kuyt, who managed to flick it forward beyond the Stoke defensive line as he fell to ground. Suarez was off to the races, completely behind the defense wit the ball. He calmly tricked the keeper with a quick touch to his left, and sent a ball with just enough on it to prevent Andy Wilkinson from clearing it right into goal to make the score 2-0 Liverpool. It wasn’t a spectacular finish, but it was certainly well deserved.

Suarez continued to be influential thereafter, finding space to nearly poach a goal on a mishit Shelvey cross from the right, taking an on-target shot from distance when things opened up for him, and making a long run down the right in the final moments in which he was potentially too unselfish. For a 30-minute debut, the Anfield faithful could have hardly asked for more — which it made quite clear with its feverishly loud applause for each of his moments of endeavor.

Suarez, in fact, did quite a few things that Fernando Torres hadn’t done at Anfield for quite some time. He worked tirelessly, tracking back almost as Wayne Rooney does. He played with width, refusing to wait for others to send him through balls, but instead creating for himself and others from the flanks. He was dynamic, hard-working, and positive — both in approach and demeanor.

Torres’ absence in and of itself, though, seemed to transform many of his former teammates for the better. Without Torres, Kuyt played with a well-defined role for the first time in forever, a situation that couldn’t have suited him more. The squad gave up on longballing — there was no surly forward waiting to be beaten in the air for them up the pitch. Instead, each midfielder looked far more creative and positive than most of their performances earlier this season had shown. In more ways than one, they looked like they were having fun.

Liverpool will face a tough test on Sunday at Stamford Bridge against a side that equally looks to have righted its ship, and what kind of tactics Dalglish will employ against that far different challenge remains to be seen.

On Wednesday, though, Dalglish, Suarez and Liverpool were masterful. They won’t need Torres to continue to be.

Is Liverpool better off without Fernando Torres? Leave your thoughts below.

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