If you had offered Liverpool fans any position in the Premier League table after five games, then undeniably the vast majority would have chosen the one they currently occupy: first. The manner in which they assumed top-spot today meant it was a hollow achievement.
Looking at the fixture list at the start of the season, if there was one home game the most honest Reds fan would have admitted that the team might lose it would have been the one against Manchester United. By the same token, if there was one game they marked as a guaranteed three points it would have been at home to Stoke.
Having beaten United last weekend, all the talk this week had been of Liverpool finally overcoming the inconsistency of previous seasons to be able to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title. Perhaps what followed today was inevitable.
It was back to the Liverpool of old as they were unable to break Stoke down. For all their domination, Liverpool were unable to find the net, and dominating games does not earn the points to win titles – only scoring goals and winning matches does that.
Rafa Benitez’s critics will point to the Liverpool manager’s rotation system and question why he felt the need to make three changes to a side that had beaten the champions just seven days ago. But when you consider that two of the returning players were Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, it should not have been a reason for their failure to beat Stoke.
The Potters have indicated from their matches in the fledgling season that they are not Derby County Version 2.0, as many pundits had predicted. They will not be bullied and overrun as Derby were and have given a good account of themselves so far. Last weekend they gave Liverpool’s neighbours Everton a run for their money. But this was away at the Britannia Stadium and the Toffees still emerged with three points.
It looks like a trip back to the drawing board for Liverpool. Two dropped points has not ended their title bid, but it has drawn a line under last week’s euphoria and shown how fragile their form can be.