Following their disappointing 2-2 draw with Bournemouth on Wednesday night, Liverpool’s weekend trip to the Britannia has added importance in the race for top four.
Two points dropped at home is the last thing Jurgen Klopp would have wanted, with another golden opportunity to pull away from their rivals missed. With Arsenal and Manchester United having two games in hand on Liverpool, their Champions League fate is no longer entirely in their own hands. Three points is a must against Stoke.
Match: Stoke City vs Liverpool
Venue: Britannia Stadium
Date: Saturday 8th April
Time: 15:00 BST
Prior to the game against Bournemouth, Liverpool were firmly in the driving seat for a top four spot after a series of pleasing performances, including a 3-1 Merseyside derby win against Everton. A stalemate with Eddie Howe’s team will have put a check in their momentum but the players must lift their heads, and fast, for a crucial run-in in what remains of the Premier League season.
Stoke are one of the toughest teams to face in the league at the Britannia. Defensively well-drilled and with the quality to hurt teams on the counter, Mark Hughes’ side will likely set up to contain the Reds and expose their defensive weaknesses. Another trip to an in-form and a tough opponent in West Brom means Liverpool are entering a crucial period of games – one which will give a strong indication of whether they have what it takes to bring Champions League nights back to Anfield.
Form wise, Stoke go into the game in a bad patch, having suffered defeats on the road to Leicester and Burnley. However, a recent draw against Manchester City will give Liverpool plenty of warning about their ability to frustrate and neutralise their opponents.
Sadio Mané was a huge miss for the Reds against Bournemouth, with the side lacking in pace and drive going forward. He, unlike most in the side, has the ability to stretch opposition defences and create space for those around him – something that’s proved to be a real issue against teams in the bottle half.
Of Klopp’s strongest eleven, three of his key men are sidelined with long-term issues as Mané joins Henderson and Lallana on the injury table while worries will remain over Joel Matip, with the defender demoted to the bench in midweek after a back issue. His inclusion would see Ragnar Klavan lose his spot, after his defensive howler allowed Joshua King to equalise.
Divock Origi is likely to retain his spot in the starting line up after netting his 10th goal of the season, while Daniel Sturridge continued his return to fitness after training with the side at Melwood. The England striker will be hoping to feature at the weekend after being an unused substitute, while Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold are among the youngsters expected to travel. The later could start from the off, should Lucas Leiva be given a rest after starting in the last two games for Liverpool.
Peter Crouch is expected to lead the line for Stoke City after the former-Liverpool striker came on as a second-half substitute against Burnley while Joe Allen will also line up against his former club. Marko Arnautovic and Ibrahim Affelay will provide further concerns for Klopp’s rusty looking defence, with a potential for pace and trickery to catch Liverpool on the counter.
Predicted Liverpool XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Can, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum; Coutinho, Firmino, Origi.
Predicted Stoke XI: Grant; Pieters, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Johnson; Allen, Whelan, Adam, Afellay, Arnautovic; Crouch
When they last met
Liverpool will be looking to do the double over Stoke after a comfortable 4-1 win in December. It was a relatively routine game for the Reds, with a double from Divock Origi coupled with a goal from Sturridge and a rare strike from Moreno. The Belgian will be hoping to show similar form in front of goal at the weekend as he looks to capitalise on Mané’s injury.
Prediction: Stoke 1-2 Liverpool
Call me a foolish optimist, but Liverpool will know how important this fixture is after a disappointing result against Bournemouth. Injuries to Mané, Lallana and Henderson have hit them hard but with Stoke having lost three on the spin, scoring just one goal in their past four games, Jurgen Klopp’s side should be able to grind out three points. Let’s hope so, anyway.