16 August 2013

Liverpool v Stoke 08.17.13

7:45am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-3 Stoke (a) 12.26.12
0-0 (h) 10.07.12
2-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 03.18.12
0-0 (h) 01.14.12

Last three preseason matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Celtic (n); 4-1 Vålerenga (a); 2-0 Olympiakos (h)
Stoke: 0-0 Genoa (h); 1-0 Wrexham (a); 2-0 Philadelphia Union (a)

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Toure Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Aspas Coutinho Henderson

Football football football football. Oh how I missed you.

Wait, what? The first match is against Stoke? Well, so much for the return of football. We'll have to wait another week for that.

Oh, Stoke. Tony Pulis may be gone, but Tony Pulis' players remain. And chances are, even with Mark Hughes in charge, this will be very much like a Tony Pulis XI playing Tony Pulis football. The question, as always, is whether Liverpool can cope with it. You know, for a change.

The first XI of the season, with only Suarez assuredly absent, is always more difficult to predict. Is Sturridge definitely fit enough to start? Will Liverpool use Gerrard, Allen, and Lucas in a three-man midfield, or will Coutinho play as the #10 with two from Sterling, Aspas, and Henderson out wide?

If Sturridge isn't available, at least from the start, the line-up's easier to predict. Aspas as the lone striker, Sterling on the right, and Henderson or Coutinho on the left depending on Rodgers' preferred midfield.

That this match is against Stoke – one of Liverpool's bêtes noires, a physical side who Liverpool's beaten just twice in ten league meetings – seems a harbinger of things to come. How Rodgers sees tomorrow's XI could well be how Rodgers treats most of the home matches against the burly lower half of the division. I think (or maybe, I hope) that Liverpool will be proactive, that Coutinho will be the attacking hub, that Sturridge will run riot, that Aspas will get the chance to play from the right, that Henderson will continue to provide balance and running from the other flank. But I'm nowhere near certain that'll be the case.

Mark Hughes' Stoke seems easier to predict. Other than the addition of left-back Erik Pieters from PSV, it'll most likely be the same Stoke side that we're used to. Something like Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters; Palacios, N'Zonzi; Walters, Adam, Etherington; Crouch.

Marc Muniesa, the other marquee signing (a free transfer from Barcelona), seems unlikely to feature so soon, used as a substitute throughout preseason. And as always, I'm incredibly fearful of ex-Liverpool players facing their former club. Yes, even ex-players like Charlie Adam, while Crouch's only goal against Liverpool since leaving Liverpool was in Stoke's 2-1 FA Cup loss in 2011-12.

Has Mark Hughes had enough time to beat the Stoke out of Stoke? It's not easy teaching old, ugly, probably-should-have-been-put-down-months-ago dogs new tricks. Obviously, it'd be nice to see that lot try to play some football; it'd seemingly make Liverpool's task a lot easier. Hughes will be under pressure from both club and fans to be more aesthetically pleasing (or, more accurately, less aesthetically offensive), but I don't know how much that pressure will be felt in the first match of the season, away from home, against a side that Stoke's patented brand of rugby has foiled so often.

Liverpool have hosted Stoke five times since the Potters were promoted. Liverpool won two of those meetings – way way back in 2009 and 2011 – while the other three ended 0-0. I'm always afraid of putting far too much stock in one match, let alone the first match of the season, but Liverpool's play tomorrow, and, more importantly, Liverpool's result tomorrow, will undoubtedly be seen as a valid predictor for how the rest of the season will play out.

1 comment :

Josh K. said...

Couldn't agree with you more about Lucas. Couldn't take my eyes off him. He singlehandedly kept Stoke pinned in on several occasions. I'm looking forward to a full season of him back at peak form.

I'm also still laughing about this line-"I still can't believe Walters didn't score. Judging by the celebrations from everyone but Mignolet, neither could the Liverpool players." Huge boost of confidence for him.

Soooo glad footballs back. Sooo glad to be reading OYB post game again.