Britannia Stadium, Stoke
Saturday, 10th September, 2011
1925 hours (+0530 GMT), Live on ESPN India
While one side has quite literally gone from strength to strength, the other has gone back to the rudimentary habit of doing things as per the club’s ethos. Tony Pulis’ latest acquisitions in the recently concluded summer transfer window have sent out a resounding message of what Stoke City, as a football club, stands for.
There is no reason why the boss wouldn’t go for pacy wingers and creative playmakers but there is a reason why Pulis brings in players who command a strong physical presence on the pitch despite the perceived lack of quality, pace or creativity. Stoke’s style of play is a reflection of the contemporary British style – involving long balls from the deep, a robust midfield and wingers with crossing abilities good enough to find the tall, towering strikers in the box. Pulis has solidified all three facets of the game sans the goalkeeper’s position and it is fair to say that playing against Stoke City this season will probably be tougher than before for any team.
At Liverpool, ‘king’ Kenny has been busy acquiring the required personnel who would fit into the club’s philosophy as he looks to take Liverpool back to winning ways, the “Liverpool way”. And as long as this is the mantra at the club, expect no change in Liverpool’s style against Stoke this weekend. The club has coped well without the services of Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and even Martin Kelly every now and then; so few will be skeptical about the kind of performance the club will display when they walk out at the Britannia.
After a disappointing opening day result to Sunderland, the Reds have come back strong with back to back wins in the League and a 1–3 thumping of Exeter away from home in the Carling Cup. Yes, credit does go to the club owners, Kenny and the coaching staff at the club for these results but in Stoke City, the club faces its first tough test of the season and needless to say, attention must be paid to this game especially considering the club’s performances in this fixture in the recent past.
Liverpool have picked up just two points out of a possible nine in their past 3 encounters at the Britannia and Kenny will be looking to change exactly that when he marches his men onto the pitch.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Fans at the Britannia on Saturday will be missing one of the club’s lynchpins against Liverpool. 35 year-old Republic of Ireland international Rory Delap and his resourceful throw-ins will be absent since the midfielder is currently nursing a hamstring injury. Alongside Delap in the medical room are Danny Higginbotham, Mamady Sidibe and striker Ricardo Fuller. Higginbotham is currently undergoing treatment for a knee injury and is expected to return during early October while Fuller and Sidibe are out due to an Achilles injury.
The Potters have bolstered their defense, midfield and striking areas with the likes of Upson, Woodgate; Palacios; Crouch and Cameron Jerome respectively. This is another indication of how Tony Pulis is looking to breed a club philosophy. All the new players are ones with good amount of Premier League experience and will fit directly into Stoke’s style of play. New signing Jonathan Woodgate seems to have rejuvenated the last few years of his career after joining Stoke and will surely be a name on the team sheet against Liverpool. While Shawcross and Woodgate will make up a solid central defense, Huth and Shotton are more than capable of covering the full-back spots.
Pulis – Carving the Potters
In the absence of Delap, new recruit Wilson Palacios is most likely to start alongside Dean Whitehead. This makes up for a very robust midfield. Palacios is a tall and boisterous midfielder who has proved how difficult it is to come up against during his tenure at Spurs. On the wings, Pennant and Etherington on the right and left flanks respectively have been providing ample support to the strikers week-in, week-out and Pulis knows he can safely rely on the duo to send in those crosses into the Liverpool box.
With the aerial power that Stoke currently hold, the presence of Kenwyne Jones and new signing Peter Crouch is inevitable. Crouch, being a former Red, will have a fair knowledge of the Merseyside club’s approach towards tall strikers and will be looking to pass the thought along to his partners.
All in all, expect a sporadic approach in attack from the Potters and a highly physical game from a defensive perspective. Tony Pulis’ men already troubled Chelsea in the opening game of the season and will do nothing different in preventing Liverpool from walking away with all three points on Saturday.
Probable Starting Lineup: Begovic, Shawcross, Woodgate, Huth, Shotton, Palacios, Whitehead, Etherington, Pennant, Jones, Crouch
Probable Starting Lineups
The Reds travel to Stoke without the services of their Captain Steven Gerrard, who is expected to return for their game against Tottenham later this month. Right-back Glen Johnson could be in contention for a starting spot as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Scottish international Charlie Adam picked up a hip injury in the midweek friendly against but has been declared fit for the Stoke game, while Martin Kelly also falls in the same pot due to his hamstring knock.
Liverpool have their defense sorted out save for one spot – the right-back position. With the club still waiting on Glen’s and Kelly’s fitness, it would mean that Dalglish will most likely have to go with young John Flanagan again since Carragher or Skrtel will find it difficult to keep up with the likes of Etherington. While Enrique remains first choice for the left-back spot, it is the central defense which is most interesting.
To combat the likes of Jones and Crouch, Dalglish will have to choose among four names – Skrtel, Agger, Carragher and the young Uruguayan Sebastian Coates. At 6’6”, the Copa America Young Player of the Tournament is hot property in Europe and Damien Comolli did a good job in signing him before other clubs join the race. With the versatility he carries under his belt, Coates could just about be a surprise inclusion in the starting eleven. Coates holds a commanding presence at the back and also possesses a good attacking sense which puts him in contention for a centre-back starting spot on Saturday.
Dalglish is never shy of fielding young talent and if his judgment of Coates is correct, then we will see him coming up against the likes of Jones and Crouch. The other spot is more of a tussle between Agger and Carragher and chances are we will see the local lad Jamie start alongside Coates in a mentoring role which would leave Agger on the bench. However, this could change if Dalglish decides to deploy Carragher at right-back to compromise on pace in which case Agger and Coates will take charge of central defense. So the choice of a center-back pairing, to an extent, depends on the choice of right-back.
With Adam fit to feature against Stoke, we are most likely to witness a Lucas-Adam duo in the center of the park with Downing and Kuyt starting out on the left and right flanks. Although Henderson is an equally viable option for the right, fielding Kuyt will give Liverpool some strength in that region against Stoke.
Dalglish’s pass-and-move approach will not be enough if Liverpool are to rule the roost at the Britannia. The presence of Carroll is important in this game although he hasn’t yet adapted to Liverpool’s style. This kind of ebbs the extent to which Liverpool can engage in pass-and-move. The presence of Kuyt on the right also adds to this effect.
Employing Kuyt on the right could also have a domino effect till central defense. The need for a pacy right back is essential if Liverpool are to make up for the lack of pace due to Kuyt’s presence. Let’s not forget that Kuyt is a work machine but with age slowly catching up on him, he cannot fire up and win races against defenders the way he used to do. This means Flanagan will most likely be given the nod. This precludes Agger’s or Carragher’s presence in centre. Yes, Dalglish will have to ponder on this now that Meireles isn’t there to take up the spot next to Lucas and Gerrard isn’t back yet. Lastly, there is no doubt that Suarez will also be heading the strike force.
The absence of Gerrard along with the departure of Meireles basically leaves Liverpool in a weak position if they go into the game against Stoke with a 4-5-1 formation. A 4-4-2 would make more sense if Liverpool are to play a possession game and create a good number of chances for themselves. 35 million-rated Andy Carroll will also be desperate to start this game after recently coming under criticism by England boss Fabio Capello. Getting onto the score sheet will no doubt boost his confidence and make Dalglish as well as Capello happy.
Probable Starting Lineup: Reina, Carragher, Coates, Flanagan, Enrique, Downing, Lucas, Adam, Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch Out For
Andy Carroll (Liverpool)
Carroll has been desperate to hit form this season after returning from an injury-plagued campaign last year. Performances for club and country are not upto the mark and for a player of his caliber, it is vital that he starts finding the back of the net soon and build his confidence early on in the season so he can avoid coming under the shadow of the critics.
Stoke City 0-1 Liverpool
Dalglish’s men won the return fixture at Anfield last season so this will be the first time he will be leading the squad away from Anfield against Tony Pulis. It is not going to be the easiest of games to win but the Reds are on a good run and Dalglish will definitely put out his best squad to win this fixture and make it four wins in a row in all competitions.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From The Past