Britannia Stadium, Stoke
26 December, 19:45 GMT
Stoke City have just come off an impressive draw against Tottenham Hotspur away from home and a win against Liverpool will serve as the perfect Christmas gift for the Potters. Tony Pulis’ men are level on points with their boxing day opponents, separated just by goal difference; the recent history of games between these two teams suggest Liverpool will not have it easy when they arrive at the Britannia, the Reds still seeking their first win on Stoke territory. The Potters boast of the meanest defense in the League so far this campaign, and this feat looks even better when you take their home form into consideration. Stoke have not lost a single game at home since February this year, conceding an astonishing three goals only there all season. Liverpool sure have their task cut out.
Liverpool travel to Stoke at the back of their best League win so far this season. The 4-0 thumping of Fulham was a perfect reply to Liverpool’s previous week’s dismal showing against Aston Villa and also bettered their 5-2 away win against Norwich City earlier this season. However, will Liverpool be able to restart their good run of form at the Britannia? It sure is going to be an interesting game to catch considering the style of play at both ends. Stoke, with their imposing presence will be looking to edge out Liverpool through set pieces and long ball plays while Liverpool will aim to play the possession game, frustrate Stoke till they are at their vulnerable peak and then hit them on the run.
Team News & Tactics
Charlie Adam will be missing his former employers this week as he is on compassionate leave following his father’s demise last week. Stoke otherwise do not have any injury concerns ahead of this game. In fact, former Red Michael Owen is hoping to make it to the bench against his former club after recovering from his hamstring injury from October.
Speaking of former players, there is some debate about Peter Crouch coming into the starting line-up against Liverpool but it is unlikely that Tony Pulis will go for a change in personnel who gave a solid performance against Spurs over the weekend. Hence, are likely to see the same Stoke line-up that walked out at White Hart Lane against Liverpool as well.
Stoke’s draw against Spurs last weekend extended their unbeaten streak to eight games, their best ever in the Premier League. The 0-0 draw at the Lane also marked Asmir Begovic’s ninth clean sheet, clearly sending out a strong message about how wonderfully Pulis is shaping up his team. The Potters have troubled the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle United at home this year, and knowing that they have kept four clean sheets out of their five previous encounters against Liverpool will only boost their confidence as they walk into this game.
From Stoke’s end, expect plenty a highly physical game with a lot of shoulder-to-shoulder encounters as a natural response to Liverpool’s increasingly fluid style of play. One of the interesting opposite pairings on the pitch would be that of Raheem Sterling and Geoff Cameron. The left-back will surely be aiming to shut Sterling out, seeing him as probably the softest target on the pitch.
Glenn Whelan was one of Stoke’s best players against Spurs last weekend, commanding the midfield with confidence and distributing his passes not just to the wide players but also to the frontal pairing of Jones and Walters. He will be the key man, expected to play a similar role against Liverpool on Boxing Day.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Begovic(GK); Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Cameron; Shotton, N’Zonzi, Whelan, Etherington; Jones, Walters
The Reds travel to the Britannia with no major injury concerns other than Joe Allen, who is facing a pelvis issue and could start on the bench, at best. Fabio Borini is back in training but is yet to be declared match-fit which means once again it will be a lone Luis Suarez up front with the support of Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling from either side.
Downing has replied to his critics through recent performances in the Europa League and the game against Fulham at Anfield. The 28-year-old Liverpool winger has had to play in a variety of positions this season but it looks like with him starting out on the right, alongside Glen Johnson is what works best for the team. This implies Sterling’s presence on the left, ahead of Jose Enrique. While it does make sense not to pair up Downing and Enrique on the same plane, the emphasis should be more on Sterling’s impact through the right. His ability to pair up with Suarez seems far more effective when cutting in from the right and into the box which means Sterling will switch flanks once the game begins for Liverpool.
While Sterling returns to replace Suso, Jonjo Shelvey is most likely to retain his place while Allen sits out. This could turn out to be a good thing for Liverpool as Shelvey can provide that physical presence on the pitch which will aid the likes of Suarez and Gerrard release from the shackles of Shawcross, Huth and a stern Stoke midfield. Gerrard will also be helped by Lucas Leiva, whose return has come as a boon to the Liverpool captain this term.
One way that Liverpool will try and get the upper hand is through drawing the foul from Stoke players. Suarez and Sterling have it in them to attract a defender and convince him in making a tackle and draw the foul. If they do concentrate such a tactic in and around the box, then chances are you might see Suarez or Gerrard score off a free-kick.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina(GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Shelvey, Lucas; Sterling, Suarez, Downing
- Stoke have won just one of their last 11 games played on Boxing Day (W1 D5 L5).
- Liverpool have lost just one of their last 10 Boxing Day matches (W7 D2 L1).
- Stoke are unbeaten in their last 15 Premier league games at the Britannia Stadium (W7 D8), a run that started with a 2-0 win over Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea team.
- Luis Suarez has converted 14.1% of his shots in the Premier League this season, much higher than in his previous two PL campaigns – 10.2% in 2011-12 and 8.5% in 2010-11.
Stats courtesy Yahoo! Eurosport UK
Player To Watch Out For
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
His marauding runs, his ability to draw other players into the game and his key understanding of his surrounding on the pitch have turned Raheem Sterling from a rumour to a star in England. After having a long running streak of starts in the Premier League (16), Sterling was handed a rest against Fulham over the weekend. It may have come at a good timing as Stoke will prove to be trickier, especially away from home.
It will be exciting to watch if the Stoke defence can keep up with him. His menacing nature around the box is going to be difficult to handle for Potters’ backline and chances are the 18-year-old will be looking to draw a foul/tackle near to/in the penalty box. Liverpool have been denied a penalty for a long time now, that’s another issue but this just might be the place where they break the duck.
Stoke City 0 – 1 Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers earlier emphasized the reality check that the Aston Villa loss drew upon Liverpool two weeks ago. He was adamant that his players will respond to the loss and respond they did, against Fulham. The Liverpool folklore will be hoping that these words were not just meant to get the Reds through their next game but to put them on a good run of form. Stoke has never been an easy fixture for Liverpool but this Boxing Day, with the likes of Suarez, Gerrard and Sterling in fine form, Liverpool might just turn this forgettable streak around.
Blast from the Past