Divock Origi staked his claim to start once again against Borussia Dortmund by scoring twice as a much-changed Liverpool hammered Stoke City 4-1.
Eyebrows were raised when Jurgen Klopp opted to start Origi ahead of Daniel Sturridge in last Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final first leg, but the young Belgian rewarded his manager’s faith with a crucial away goal at Signal Iduna Park.
And Origi was at it again at Anfield on Sunday as he bagged a brace playing the second half in place of Sheyi Ojo, who impressed on his first Premier League start.
Klopp made seven changes to his XI with Thursday’s second leg against his former club in mind, with the recalled Sturridge also offering a timely reminder of his quality with a close-range header that restored Liverpool’s lead before the break after Bojan Krkic had equalised Alberto Moreno’s early screamer.
It took the buoyant Origi just five minutes to get himself on the scoresheet with Liverpool’s third of the game as he nodded James Milner’s delivery past Jakob Haugaard, and the 20-year-old’s cross-cum-shot added gloss to the scoreline with 25 minutes remaining.
Klopp, who took the opportunity to rest Philippe Coutinho but was able to field Lucas Leiva from the bench after his thigh injury, sees his side climb above Stoke into eighth in the Premier League and can reflect on a job well done ahead of the season-defining visit of Dortmund.
Liverpool enjoyed the better of the opening stages and took the lead in the eighth minute, when two of the four men to keep their places after the trip to Germany combined.
Milner fed Moreno with a quick free-kick after being fouled by Phil Bardsley, and the Spaniard fizzed a dipping long-range drive beyond Jack Butland’s deputy Haugaard for his first goal of the season.
But Stoke were level by the midway point of the half when Bojan was allowed the freedom of Liverpool’s penalty area to glance home Xherdan Shaqiri’s free-kick from the left.
The visitors thought they had turned the game on its head soon after when Peter Crouch headed in a superb cross from Erik Pieters, only for the offside flag to deny the former Reds striker.
And Stoke’s frustration was compounded by a moment of brilliance from Liverpool youngster Ojo, who drifted left before dancing his way past Shaqiri and sending an inch-perfect delivery across the face of goal to give Sturridge the easy task of nodding Klopp’s team back in front.
Origi replaced teenager Ojo at half-time, and the Belgian made an immediate impact after being left all alone to power a close-range header past the helpless Haugaard.
It was one-way traffic after the interval and Origi put the icing on Liverpool’s cake when he cut inside Bardsley and angled a ball in towards Sturridge that ended up in Haugaard’s far corner.
Key Opta stats:
– Liverpool have won five of their last six league meetings against Stoke, with the other game being a 6-1 loss on the final day of last season.
– Liverpool netted four goals in a game at home for the first time under Jurgen Klopp.
– Daniel Sturridge has been directly involved in seven goals in seven Premier League appearances against Stoke (four goals, three assists).
– James Milner has provided more assists than any other Liverpool player in all competitions this season (10).
– Bojan scored in consecutive Premier League appearances for the second time this term. The Spaniard had gone 11 games in all competitions without a goal before this run.