12:30pm, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 09.20.08
8-0 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 11.29.2000
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.25.1994
3-2 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 10.09.1991
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Preston (a); 5-1 Newcastle (a); 3-0 Bolton (h)
Stoke: 0-2 Hartlepool (a); 1-2 West Ham (a); 0-1 United (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Keane, Kuyt, Torres 5; Alonso 3; Babel, Riera 2; Arbeloa, Benayoun, Carragher, Hyypia 1
Stoke: Fuller 6; Sidibe 3; Abdoulaye Faye, Olofinjana 2; Delap, Higginbotham, Lawrence 1
Referee: Lee Mason
Guess at a squad:
Carragher Hyypia Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Alonso’s still injured, but Benitez says that Aurelio, Skrtel, and Torres are healthy enough to start. And while it’s probably a leap to suggest Torres will start after only one game off the bench, Liverpool need his goals, and that he’s available leads me to believe (hope) he’ll be on from the opening whistle.
With Insua off to the South American U-20s, it’s a good time for Aurelio to return to fitness. We’ll see some of Andrea Dossena during this month, but more often than not, Aurelio will be the left back. And it’s nice to see he’s looking forward to linking back up with Riera, who continues to improve every time out.
I still think Liverpool will line up 4-2-3-1, with Masch and Lucas holding. Kuyt should replace Babel on the right, and if Torres is healthy, it would mean Keane would miss out. I’ve seen posts suggesting Kuyt would start up top on his own, with Yossi on the right, in Torres’ absence, but I hope that’s not the case. Yossi’s been excellent recently – and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him on the right – but Liverpool always seems to score less with Kuyt as a lone striker, and against a team that’ll be as stingy and sturdy as Stoke, it doesn’t seem the right move.
And make no mistake, Liverpool will hopefully be looking to run riot over the opposition, to make amends for the draw at Anfield in September, the first of the four exasperating draws at home. Stoke, on 20 points in 18th place, haven’t had the best of runs recently, losing their last four and winless since November 22nd. But form’s gone out the window when the top of the table travels to the bottom sides before.
Etherington, recently acquired from West Ham, will start on the left (and I’m obliged to point out that he, along with Benayoun, was West Ham’s best player in the 2006 FA Cup final), which is where Delap and his long throws usually play. Delap will probably have to move to central midfield, where he’s done a job in the past, if Liam Lawrence is fit enough to start. Striker Ricardo Fuller is still banned after slapping captain Andy Griffin at the end of December.
Top of the league in January, and with players, the manager, and the media starting to discuss a title shot in earnest, Liverpool will have targets painted on their backs for the rest of the season. Stoke will be narrow, Stoke will be happy to sit at least nine behind the ball, and Stoke will be tough to break down, especially with their own fans backing them. But Liverpool needs three points as often as possible in order to try and pull away from the chasing pack.
The race to May 24th pretty much starts tomorrow.