25 October 2011

Liverpool at Stoke 10.26.11

2:45pm ET, live in the US on FoxSoccer.tv. Most of us will have to make do with streams. There is a delayed showing on Fox Soccer Plus at 5:00pm ET.

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Stoke (a) 09.10.11
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.11
0-2 Stoke (a) 11.13.10
1-1 (a) 01.16.10

Previous round(s):
Liverpool: 2-1 Brighton (a); 3-1 Exeter (a)
Stoke: 0-0 Spurs [7-6 pens] (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Norwich (h); 1-1 United (h); 2-0 Everton (a)
Stoke: 1-3 Arsenal (a); 3-0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv (h); 2-0 Fulham (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Suarez 5; Bellamy, Carroll 2; Adam, Gerrard, Henderson, Kuyt, Maxi, Skrtel 1
Stoke: Jones, Walters 4; Crouch, Shotton 3; Jerome 2; Delap, Pugh, Upson, Whelan 1

Referee: Peter Walton

You may remember Mr. Walton from Saturday's match. Odd that he has two Liverpool fixtures in a row.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Henderson Lucas Spearing Maxi
Suarez Carroll

A third consecutive Carling Cup tie away from Anfield. The luck of the draw, eh?

In keeping with what we've seen in the last two rounds, I'd imagine a slightly-weaker than usual side: stronger than under previous managers in this competition, but with a handful of second-string veterans and/or youngsters. It'll be similar to the line-up which started at Rangers a week ago.

As Carragher's missed just one match this season – in the 2nd round against Exeter – I'm hopeful we'll see a different center-back pairing. Either Skrtel and Agger, the potential first-choice pairing in the near future, or Coates and Agger, the potential first-choice pairing in the long-term. More specifically, I'd like to see if either of these duos will play higher up the pitch, limiting the space between midfield and defense. Tomorrow could also be another step towards full fitness for Johnson if he escaped Saturday unscathed, with similar true for Aurelio, who's hardly featured this season.

Lucas should return from suspension, partnered with Spearing or Adam (with Gerrard rested after starting against United and Norwich). Maxi's lone starts have been in the two previous rounds of the competition, while Henderson's also due a place in the XI, whether in central midfield or ostensibly on the right. A Lucas/Henderson midfield, with two of Maxi, Downing, and Kuyt on the flanks is also a distinct possibility.

Finally, up front, Carroll seems nailed on to start. His partner, if Liverpool continue with the 4-2-2-2 base formation, is less certain. Bellamy seems the most unlikely, having played an hour in each of Liverpool's two matches this week. Kuyt's been unimpressive in his last few starts. And Suarez's troubles in front of goal have been much-discussed; tomorrow could be an opportunity to avenge misses against Norwich et al (as well as the last meeting between these sides) or an opportunity to give Liverpool's magician some much-needed time off. Especially with Suarez's good friend Peter Walton as referee again.

Stoke used a mostly full-strength side in the last round of the competition, beating Spurs on penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0. The Potters also have five days before their next match, on Monday compared to Liverpool's Saturday trip to West Brom. Liverpool are more than acquainted with Pulis' strangling, burly set-up. Two wingers, at least one (probably two) physical strikers (from Crouch, Walters, Jones, and Jerome), and the likes of Huth, Upson, Woodgate, et al in defense. Pennant, a familiar threat from the flanks, is the lone injury concern.

Tomorrow's primary narrative is revenge: a chance for Liverpool to make amends for dropping three points to this team at this venue a month ago. It's also a real chance at a trophy for the first time in six seasons, with only 16 teams left in the competition. There are 11 Premiership sides remaining, but the majority are playing each other in this round (except United, obviously); at most, there will be just six from the top-tier left after Wednesday.

Vengeance is fun, but success is obviously more meaningful. And this side could do with some success.

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