The Premier League returns this upcoming week, and our beloved Reds begin the campaign with a grudge match away to Stoke City. After The-Match-That-Will-Not-Be-Named closed out the 2014/15 season, we go again to the Britannia to face the Potters. The pressure mounts every passing day, but so too does the excitement for league football after a long summer. We’re back with the Premier League Preview!
Where Things Stand
As has been much discussed between Liverpool fans, the summer has had its ups and downs. Transfer rumors were let loose like scatterbrained birds, flying in every direction imaginable. In the end, new signings James Milner, Danny Ings, Adam Bogdan, Joe Gomez, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, and Christian Benteke have been brought in to improve on last season’s insipid sixth place finish. Losing Steven Gerrard to the US’s LA Galaxy will give Brendan Rodgers the freedom to tinker without having to consider the legendary midfielder. Whether that will be effective or not remains to be seen.
Stoke City have done some really good business this summer as Mark Hughes continues the stylistic revamp of the club. Bringing in Joselu, Sergio Molina, Moha El Ouriachi, and Ibrahim Afellay, Stoke now have two former Real Madrid and four former Barcelona players in their squad. The Potters have also went out and purchased goalkeepers Shay Given and Jakob Haugaard as well as Liverpool’s very own Glen Johnson. Finishing in the top-10 in consecutive seasons, Mark Hughes will surely be looking to make the push for European football in the upcoming campaign.
Talking Point: Injuries
Three guesses on who’s definitely missing for the Reds for the season opener.
Though reports have come out within the past few days that Sturridge might be looking at a mid-September return, there’s no way the incisive forward is seeing the pitch against Stoke. The same can be said, of course, for Jon Flanagan. Another mainstay on the injury list, Flanagan’s footballing days may well be over.
Also on the list is Joe Allen, who sustained a pretty heavy knock against Swindon Town this week. Reports coming out of the physio room suggest he might have a longer period out of the side than originally intended. However, with the signing of James Milner this summer, Allen will have a tough time getting into the side even when he’s healthy.
Stoke are seeing some injury problems as well. Three players round out the list at the Britannia, including both starting centre-backs Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson. In the scheme of things, this could be a huge blow to their opening day hopes. Wilson is only slightly doubtful to miss the match at the weekend, but there have been reports of a specialist visit for Shawcross to determine if he’ll be fit for the Liverpool fixture.
Also on the list is Marko Arnautovic, whose position in the starting XI was doubtful anyway. Though Victor Moses has gone back to Chelsea after a decent 2014/15 season, new signings Afellay and El Ouriachi can play in wide positions. Depending on Mark Hughes’ plans for the first team, Arnautovic could be edged out before the season even begins.
Selling Asmir Begovic was a gutsy move by the Stoke administration, but it’s also a statement of intent for the promising Jack Butland. Though Haugaard and Given have been purchased, Butland will have the chance from day one to prove he’s a Premier League talent. The defence in front of him will show little change, as Pieters and Bardsley are almost positively the starting full backs. No Glen Johnson grudge match here: I assume Stoke will want a more defensively astute back line for the first fixture of the year. As previously mentioned, Marc Wilson’s injury should be cleared up by the weekend. But in case Shawcross is out for an extended period, I’ve slotted Wollscheid in to start on the right side. The spotlight will be on him if he wants to solidify a starting position at the Britannia.
Even with the sale of typical starter Steven N’Zonzi, Stoke will probably still come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mame Diouf up top. He was murderous against the Reds at the end of last season, so I imagine the striker will get the nod over Crouch. Charlie Adam’s finish to last season should guarantee him a first team nod, with Glenn Whelan slotting in N’Zonzi’s spot with a more holding mentality. Anchoring the attacking midfield should be Bojan Krkic, whose departure due to injury last year hurt the Potters immensely mid-season. Out wide are Jonathan Walters, who’s goal-scoring prowess against Liverpool is surprisingly good, and new boy Afellay since Victor Moses isn’t around. Expect the same high press tactics as last time out.
Much to my chagrin, Dejan Lovren will probably be starting this match with Martin Skrtel. I know, there are several journalists stating that Sakho is the decided first-teamer. But this is Brendan Rodgers, and I think he still sees a player in the Croatian. The obvious full-back choices are new boy Nathaniel Clyne opposite Alberto Moreno. If the signs are pointing where I believe they are, Emre Can should slot in front of the back line as the holding midfielder. Hopefully, the young German is given the license to move forward as the opportunity arises. Either way, his physical presence should be a welcome sight in front of the shaky centre-backs.
Due to Sturridge’s fitness and the apparent need at Anfield to justify transfer fees, expect Benteke to start up front in a narrow 4-3-3 formation. Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will play the “wide” playmaker positions, but admittedly some of their talent is wasted out on the wing. Expect the width to come primarily from the full backs while the electric Brazilians form a “dual 10” in the attacking midfield. As the preseason has shown, Milner and new captain Jordan Henderson will be partnered in the midfield. I’d like to see the high press back with this Liverpool side, but that depends on Benteke’s willingness to perform such an action.
After the final day of last season, Liverpool will surely be hot-blooded going into this match. Revenge will be on the minds of those who take the pitch this Sunday, but that might not be enough to secure victory. Stoke were a strong team last year, and have been a mainstay in the Premier League for a while now. Based on the business they’ve done this summer, it’s hard to say how well the Potters will perform in the opening match. For both sides, the number of signings could create a newly-invigorated squad for the new season. It could also spell “bedding-in period” that produces sloppy play for the first few weeks.
But if Brendan Rodgers has any desire to start off strong and save face after the two clubs’ last meeting, a win here is crucial. The man is under pressure, and he knows it. I’ll call 2-1 to Liverpool after a hard-fought 90 minutes. Stoke will probably score first based on Liverpool’s starting centre-back pairing, but the new attacking nous in the midfield will come through for the Reds in the end.
The “Super Andy Wales” Fun Fact Section
- Liverpool has only won once away in the league against Stoke for 27 years (though Stoke spent plenty of time out of the First Division/Premier League).
- The club has only beaten Stoke twice in the Premier League era.
- In 16 games as a both a player and manager for Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish only tasted defeat once at the hands of Stoke.
- Liverpool recorded Stoke’s heaviest League Cup defeat back in 2000, when the Reds hammered the Potters 8-0.
- Luis Suarez scored on his debut against Stoke.
- Liverpool have suffered a couple of heavy away defeats against Stoke over the years: 6-1 in 1897; 5-2 in 1903; 6-1 3 months ago.
- Kenny Dalglish scored 7 goals against Stoke during his Liverpool playing career.
- Stoke mounted a serious title challenge in 1946-7, and in the final game of that season, they needed to beat Sheffield United to win the league. Alas, the game was lost 2-1, which meant the title went to…Liverpool. It would be another 17 years before Liverpool won the league again (Bill Shankly’s first league triumph in 1963/64).
(Courtesy LFCOnline.com and Liverpool-Kop.com)