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Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.11
0-2 Stoke (a) 11.13.10
1-1 (a) 01.16.10
4-0 Liverpool (h) 08.19.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Bolton (h); 3-1 Exeter (a); 2-0 Arsenal (a)
Stoke: 1-0 West Brom (a); 4-1 FC Thun (h); 1-1 Norwich (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 2; Adam, Henderson, Skrtel 1
Stoke: Jones, Shotton 1
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (!!!)
Clattenburg hasn't done a Liverpool match since that memorable 2007 Merseyside Derby. Payback had better not be a bitch.
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Kuyt Suarez Downing
An international break with no apparent injuries? Does not compute. Both Adam and Henderson missed their respective national team matches on Tuesday – Adam after a hip knock against the Czechs, Henderson rested in case of fatigue – but both should be available tomorrow, as should Johnson, returning from a thigh injury. Gerrard, back in training, and Kelly, appear to be the only absentees. Despite Dalglish's statements to the contrary, tomorrow should be too soon for the new boys; Bellamy will probably be on the bench, while Coates will probably be given more time to acclimatize to Perfidious Albion.
Andy Carroll spent the majority of the international break in the headlines for the wrong reasons thanks to Fabio Capello. Feigning concern over Carroll's off-field proclivities (which is odd enough when the likes of Terry, ACole, Rooney etc. are given free reign to wreak havoc), Capello continued to feed the beast's desire to write about Carroll's drinking habits, something Dalglish hasn't considered necessary since signing the 22-year-old. Tomorrow is the type of match which should suit Carroll to a tee: away from home against a burly, aerially proficient side. Yes, as long as Liverpool don't regress to hoof ball, which would play directly into Stoke's desire to nullify through Woodgate and Huth.
Dalglish has used a very fluid formation so far, especially in the front four, but in Liverpool's four games, the side's looked more like 4-2-2-2 at home and 4-2-3-1 away. Will we see the same tomorrow? If that's the case – and my best guess is that it is – Carroll would be the spearhead, Suarez would buzz dangerously in a free role, and Downing and Kuyt or Henderson would play on the flanks. Kuyt seems slightly more likely, simply due to his experience, but Henderson has started every match.
The other, more remote possibility is that Dalglish springs another three at the back surprise, as in last February's meeting. That formation, albeit at Anfield, stifled Stoke brilliantly. Five players who featured in that lineup are unavailable, whether injured or sold (Gerrard, Meireles, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Kelly) and unlike in that match, Stoke are likely to start with two strikers, whether it's Crouch, Jones, or Jerome. I'm also not sure where Downing fits into a formation with wing-backs (unless he's playing as the wing-back, which seems doubtful). Nonetheless, it is an option, and one Stoke will have to prepare for.
Unbeaten Stoke have started the season strongly, holding Chelsea to a 0-0 draw in the opening match, scoring late late goals to salvage a draw at Norwich and win at West Brom, and easily qualifying for the Europa League group stage. Rory Delap's long throws are the lone casualty, most likely out with a hamstring injury.
The aforementioned Europa League qualification helped pay for Stoke's late transfer splurge, headlined by former Liverpool player Peter Crouch. It's always fun (read: never fun) facing former Liverpool players. Stoke's record signing, Crouch will be joined by ex-Brummie Cameron Jerome (remember this?) and Wilson Palacios, the type of diligent holding midfielder Pulis both loves and needs. Also, a quick mention for Stoke academy graduate and increasingly important super sub Ryan Shotton. Like Stephen Ward at Wolves, Shotton is a promising utility player, used as both full-back and center forward, scoring late winners against Hadjuk Split and West Brom off the bench. Ward, you'll probably remember, scored the winner against Liverpool in last year's home loss to Wolves. The similarities slightly terrify me.
This, as much as the win at the Emirates, will be an excellent measuring stick for this season's side. I still cannot overemphasize the importance of away form improvement, and Liverpool have struggled in trips to the Britannia since Stoke's promotion, winless in the three meetings. Few sides travel to Stoke and dominate proceedings; Arsenal, Chelsea, and City all failed to win there last season. It's against lesser teams, where Stoke are tempted to come out of their shell, where they drop points. The key will be getting Stoke out of the shell, exploiting the spaces that Suarez's movement inevitably creates. Unlike in previous seasons under previous managers, fluidity and movement haven't been primary concerns. Even with Carroll in the side, that will hopefully remain the case.