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Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 10.26.11
0-1 Stoke (a) 09.10.11
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.11
0-2 Stoke (a) 11.13.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 City (a); 5-1 Oldham (h); 0-3 City (a)
Stoke: 3-1 Gillingham (a); 2-1 Blackburn (a); 2-2 Wigan (h)
Liverpool: Suarez 5; Bellamy 4; Adam, Carroll, Gerrard, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Henderson, Johnson 1
Stoke: Crouch 6; Walters 5; Delap, Ethrington 2; Huth, Jerome, Jones, Shawcross, Shotton, Whelan 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Strangely enough, this will be the first time Liverpool have had Webb this season. On the one-year anniversary of Babel-Webb Twittergate, no less.
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Downing Shelvey Maxi
Once again, midfield is Liverpool's biggest concern. With Spearing likely to miss out thanks to a hamstring injury, will Liverpool also risk Gerrard so soon after playing 90 minutes twice in the last week?
Of course, both Henderson and Adam are probably fatigued after City as well, which makes Shelvey's participation even more likely. Dalglish has dropped few hints, as is Dalglish's wont, so it's a guessing game as to who's in the best condition to play on Saturday.
Maybe, just maybe, we'll see three center-backs, as in the late stages of Wednesday's match and in this fixture last season. Agger played at left back in October's Carling Cup meeting to give Liverpool more height when defending Stoke's set plays; three at the back – whether it's Kelly-Skrtel-Agger or Skrtel-Carragher-Agger – would achieve the same purpose in addition to supplementing Liverpool's defense with both Spearing and Lucas injured. Aurelio, who I believe is still fit but that could change in the next minute, played midfield against this lot last season, but that seems the remotest of remote possibilities given Fabio's infrequent participation this season.
Playing three at the back could also ease Liverpool's worries on the flanks, with Johnson and Enrique more advanced. Bellamy evokes the same concerns as Gerrard after featuring against Oldham and City. At the same time, both Kuyt and Downing have struggled recently. If not three at the back, it seems as if the flanks will be Maxi and one other, even if Maxi rarely starts without Suarez. And if Bellamy's fit, he seemingly has to be preferred. Incidentally, Suarez has scored Liverpool's last three goals against Stoke: both in the Carling Cup and the second at Anfield 11 months ago. Step forward, Andy Carroll. Please.
Stoke could be missing three defenders, as Woodgate, Wilson, and Shotton are carrying knocks. But Stoke's attack will be all too familiar. Walters scored Stoke's penalty winner in the reverse fixture in September and Peter Crouch knows Anfield (and Liverpool's defenders) exceptionally well. Agger and Carragher did well against the Gangly Handful at the Britannia, but Stoke will be even more reliant on Crouch's hold-up ability with Liverpool likely to see even more of the ball. And then there are the usual Pennant and Etherington crosses and Delap long throws. Perpetually fun times.
Liverpool's Anfield record against sides content to defend remains abhorrent; the 3-1 win at Newcastle after Gerrard came on did little to reassure other than in reasserting Gerrard's talismanic qualities. If the captain's rested, protected, Liverpool will be under pressure to carve through an undoubtedly determined Stoke with the knowledge of past failures looming large in the minds.