October 7, 2012; 15:00 CST
When Stoke City travel to take on Liverpool at Anfield this weekend, it will most definitely be a clash of identities at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Brendan Rodgers has been keen to establish a footballing identity for Liverpool based on short passing and domination of possession. On the other hand, Tony Pulis has already been highly successful at developing a footballing philosophy for The Potters albeit a completely different one. Fast, direct and physical – Stoke City know exactly where their strength lies and play to it. Over the years, they have managed to upset quite a few top sides with their approach, especially Liverpool. Tony Pulis’ men have managed to win 2 and draw 2 of their last 5 Premier League encounters against Liverpool.
After several weeks of frustration, Liverpool recorded their first league win away against Norwich City with a 5 star performance. Luis Suarez picked up from where he left off last season at Carrow Road and became the first Liverpool player to register hat-tricks in the same fixture in successive seasons. There are several positive signs coming from Anfield and players finally seem to be responding to Brendan Rodgers’ football philosophy. However, uncharacteristic errors from an otherwise solid Livepool defence have resulted in all the good work being undone. The Reds have dropped quite a few points due to defensive errors, most recently in the 2-3 reversal against Udinese in the Europa League. Rodgers’ expressed his concern over these errors and will be looking for a good defensive performance against Stoke City at the weekend.
Stoke City, under manager Tony Pulis, have been a revelation. Ever since their return to the top flight football in 2008, Stoke City have managed to defy the odds and avoid relegation in an ever competitive Premier League. Stoke City are now very much an established Premier League side having scored 45 points or more in every season since their return to the Premier League. Tony Pulis has made some additions to the squad this season and will be hoping to secure a top 10 finish in the League this season. The Potters currently sit in 12th position having picked up 7 points from 6 games. In their last home game, Stoke picked up a 2-0 victory against Rodgers’ ex-club Swansea. Tony Pulis will hope his side can repeat the performance against a team playing a similar style of football.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Jonjo Shelvey remains suspended due to his red card against Manchester United but Liverpool have had some positive news on the injury front. Concerns over Daniel Agger and Fabio Borini have been allayed and the duo have been deemed fit to play. Joe Cole is back in training and was involved in the reserves game in mid-week. Jose Enrique has responded well to the injection on his knee but is still doubtful for the game on Sunday. Lucas and Martin Kelly remain the long term absentees from Rodgers’ squad.
After the wonderful performance against Norwich, Rodgers is expected to persist with his 4-3-3 formation. Reina is expected to continue in goal after a fine performance against Udinese. The Spanish stopper had had some indifferent form of late and the Europa League game will certainly boost his confidence. Andre Wisdom shone in the game against Norwich and will continue at right-back. Johnson will be playing his 3rd game within the space of a week but will be expected to start at left back due to lack of options. First choice centre-backs – Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger – were given a rest against Udinese and they will slot back in the Liverpool defence.
Nuri Sahin has had an excellent start to life at Anfield and has already notched up 3 goals and 3 assists in his first 4 games. He will be expected to start on the back of his strong showing last week against Norwich. Gerrard will be expected to reclaim his place in the Liverpool line-up while Joe Allen may be given a rest. Jordan Henderson is likely to start in his place. The game against Norwich saw Gerrard and Sahin taking turns to make late runs into the opposition penalty area. The trend is likely to continue against Stoke City.
Suarez is on red hot form and is expected to lead the Liverpool attack. The Uruguayan ace followed up his hat-trick against Norwich with a stunning free-kick against Udinese and will be looking to continue his scoring run. Sterling has been excellent whenever he has been selected and will be playing down the left wing for Liverpool. Borini will be starting on the right and will be looking to run the channels between the Stoke City defenders.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina, Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Henderson, Sahin, Gerrard, Borini, Suarez, Sterling
Tony Pulis’s men put in a fine performance at home against Swansea and registered their first Premier League win of the season. The 2-0 victory against Swansea – a side which has a style very similar to that of Liverpool – will have given Stoke City a lot of confidence coming into this fixture. Stoke City also have almost a fully fit squad to choose from with only Sidibe missing through a groin injury. Wilkinson, however, is set to miss the game through suspension.
Tony Pulis has tried to evolve the Stoke City side over the years. Although playing long balls, crosses from the deep and set plays remain Stoke City’s primary weapons, the team is now capable of getting the ball down and playing some good football. The squad has as many as 4 ex-Liverpool players and all of them may be involved in the match as some stage or the other.
Tony Pulis will be expected to line-up his team in a 4-5-1 formation and try to stifle The Reds’ passing game. The wide men will be expected to stretch the game and exploit the space behind the advanced full-backs of Liverpool. Stoke City have never beaten Liverpool at Anfield in their history and they will be looking to change that ignominious record this time round.
Begovic has looked solid in goal and will be shielded by the back four of Cameron, Shawcross, Huth and Wilson. Stoke City’s defense has been fairly sound and have already kept two clean sheets this season. The two towering centre-backs Shawcross and Huth will also provide plenty of threat from set pieces and Liverpool will be wary of keeping them in check.
Nzonzi and Whelan are expected to provide cover for the back four while Charlie Adam is expected to provide the creativity from midfield. The midfield battle would be crucial for both the clubs’ fortunes and it will be interesting to see how Adam fares against his former club.
Everton fan Jon Walters enjoys playing against Liverpool and will be looking to add to his goal tally. He and Kightly will start from wide positions but will be expected to drift inwards as the game progresses to support Crouch. With Liverpool fullbacks offering so much space, the two may well have a happy outing at Anfield.
Peter Crouch will play as the lone forward for Stoke and will be looking forward to score against his former club. The striker has found a rich vein of form and netted twice against Swansea last weekend. Liverpool will be looking to keep their former target-man in check and Skrtel and Agger are likely to have their tasks cut out.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-5-1): Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Walters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam, Kightly, Crouch
Players To Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Liverpool have had some legendary number 7’s over the years and Luis Suarez looks well on the way towards joining that list of greats. After a somewhat indifferent start to the campaign, the Liverpool forward is now in red hot form and has scored in 3 of his last 4 appearances, including a superb hat-trick against Norwich.
Suarez has already scored against Stoke before and the Anfield crowd can expect plenty of nutmegs from their star man against the lumbering Stoke City defence. Suarez looks hungry for goals and another hat-trick may well be on the cards.
Peter Crouch (Stoke City)
Liverpool currently have one of the shortest squads in the Premier League and Stoke City would be looking to exploit the aerial advantage against The Reds at Anfield. Stoke’s 6ft 7-inch striker will be leading the charge and will be a real threat against his former club. With Charlie Adam’s set piece ability and Stoke’s long ball approach Crouch’s strengths will come to the forefront.
Crouch enjoyed plenty of success against Rodgers’ last side Swansea. His return to Anfield could prove to be a very fruitful one for Stoke.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Stoke City
Liverpool have been on a free scoring run of late but have looked suspect at the back. Stoke, on the other hand, have been resolute in defence and Tony Pulis will have his team set up to break-down Liverpool’s passing game. Rodgers’ side however will be hungry for their first home win and the crowd will play a crucial part. It should be a hard-fought encounter with Liverpool walking away with 3 points in the end.
Blast From The Past