Stoke v Liverpool Preview - Key Battles
The highs from the Merseyside derby victory were quickly erased as Liverpool were brought back down to earth after a disappointing 2-2 draw against Bournemouth at Anfield. But, there is no time to dwell on that result as the Reds face a trip to the Bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City.
Since Stoke got promoted in the 2008-09 season, the Reds have generally found it to be a banana skin encounter, exemplified the most by the humbling 6-1 defeat on the last day of the 2014-15 season, in Steven Gerrard’s last game for the club.
Last season, we went to Stoke on the opening day of the season, and a Philippe Coutinho worldie was enough for a 1-0 win. Earlier this season, the reverse fixture at Anfield saw the Reds run out 4-1 winners, after John Walters had opened the scoring for the Potters.
Stoke are without a win in four games, and they haven’t won in more than a month now. With the Reds’ tendency to be a Robin Hood, Stoke will definitely fancy their chances to break that wretched run and absolutely make sure of their Premier League status.
Here are some key battles to look forward to.
Ryan Shawcross v Divock Origi
In the nearly 130 minutes of football since Sadio Mane’s injury, Origi has already got himself two goals. He offers Liverpool a different dimension in attack with his strength and aerial ability. However, his hold-up play is sometimes found wanting.
With the likes of Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana missing, Liverpool would benefit from sometimes going long and trying to hit Origi and use his speed to have him running down the channels.
And there will be space on the sides, with Stoke generally playing a back three with two wing-backs. But along with Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Marc Muniesa are strong defenders and they will look to impose their physicality on Origi.
The goal Origi scored against Bournemouth was of the kind that we have barely scored this season. It was terrific run into the box and cross from Gini Wijnaldum. Origi was waiting at the back post to power his header home. That is not something we can do as often when we play Roberto Firmino in the central role.
Shawcross is an unapologetically old-school defender, no-nonsense and very strong. But he does tend to switch off a little too often, which is possibly why he has not been able to make the step up to one of the bigger clubs.
On Saturday, Origi will have to be up for the challenge and a sore body after the game, because Shawcross will ensure that it will be tough and bruising for Origi.
Joe Allen v Gini Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum had the worst possible start to the game against Burnley. He played an underhit back pass to Simon Mignolet that was pounced upon by Benik Afobe to give Bournemouth the lead. But he made amends with an absolutely beautiful assist for Origi to put the Reds back in the lead.
But again, as you always do when you mention Wijnaldum, you have to mention the most curious trait for any player in the Premier League to have. He has completed nearly two seasons in English football with Newcastle first and us, and scored 17 goals but not a single one has come away from St. James’ Park or Anfield.
But the big concern is the general level of Wijnaldum’s performance when he moves away from the comforts of home. At Anfield, he has been the driving force in our midfield. That thrust is missing when we travel away, and in many ways, that is when it is needed more.
Allen left Liverpool to join Stoke in the summer, and was terrific for the first half of the reverse fixture at Anfield. He ran the show and should have put Stoke 2-0 up before Lallana equalised on that day. But it is precisely that inconsistency which stops Allen from being an even better player than he is at the moment.
With Lucas expected to continue alongside Emre Can and Wijnaldum in midfield, the Dutchman will be the creative force among the three, and for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool’s sake, one can only hope he lets go of the most stupid trait I have ever seen in a player.
Mame Biram Diouf v Philippe Coutinho
Diouf has been the man playing at right-wingback for Stoke recently, and his latest test on Saturday is as tough as they come in the Premier League. The little man has been getting back to his best in the last two games, which is terrific news for Liverpool in the absence of Mane.
The international break, for a change, did Liverpool some good. Coutinho looked flat and tired before that. He went to Brazil, put in two fabulous performances to finalise Brazil’s qualification for the World Cup, and brought that confidence back to Liverpool.
He scored a stunning goal in derby and brought Liverpool back on terms at the end of the first half with a cleverly taken goal against Bournemouth.
He did go off with what was thought to be an illness, but that is not thought to be a big concern for the moment.
In Mane’s absence, Coutinho is the man who will be tasked with creating the goals, and sometimes, scoring them himself too.
On Saturday, it will be important for Liverpool to give the ball to Coutinho at every possible opportunity. Diouf is not a defender by trade, and Coutinho will trouble him with his quick feet and trickery. But the key is to find the early pass to the little magician. Otherwise, Stoke can crowd him out with numbers.