28 November 2014

Liverpool v Stoke 11.29.14

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
5-3 Liverpool (a) 01.12.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.13
1-3 Stoke (a) 12.26.13
0-0 (h) 10.07.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Ludogorets (a); 1-3 Palace (a); 1-2 Chelsea (h)
Stoke: 1-2 Burnley (h); 2-1 Tottenham (a); 2-2 West Ham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Own Goal, Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Can, Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, Lambert, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Stoke: Diouf, Walters 3; Adam, Crouch 2; Bojan, Moses, Shawcross 1

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Lallana Lambert Sterling

What changes from Wednesday's match at Ludogorets will Rodgers' retain?

Balotelli still won't be fit, so Lambert will probably start up front for the third consecutive match. There's a slight chance three games in six days is a bridge too far and Borini's preferred, but Rodgers' treatment of Gerrard suggests he's more than willing to do similar with Lambert. Both the diamond, with either Sterling or Borini, or the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, are possibilities.

Will Gerrard start again? My default answer is "probably," because we've seen no evidence to the contrary. And if he does, will he go back to playing as deepest midfielder? Also probably, although I hope not. But I'll continue to guess as such until Rodgers demonstrates otherwise.

Will Johnson keep his place, preferred to either Moreno or Manquillo? Again, I hope not. Moreno's seemingly fit – we haven't heard otherwise and he came on as the lone sub at Ludogorets – but he's been left out of the starting XI for the last two matches. Manquillo, 20 years old, new to English football and to starting regularly, seemingly has a better chance of being rested than either Gerrard or Lambert. But, of course, I'd still rather both than Johnson.

Will Lovren come back into the side? Sakho's also still injured, and Toure wasn't awe-inspiring against Ludogorets, but I'd think I'd still rather an extended run for Toure and for Lovren to remain on the bench, in the corner, to think about what he's done.

Lallana, Coutinho, and Can are fresh, and could all start if Rodgers truly rotates. Neither Lallana nor Coutinho played especially well when both used at Palace, but I'm still not sure it's an either/or situation, especially if Sterling's still plagued by the stomach virus that saw him substituted against Ludogorets. Markovic's also an option out wide if Sterling's absent, although he wasn't even in the squad on Wednesday. If Sterling, Lallana, and Coutinho are all available and involved, Henderson and Can are competing for the same spot, and we know who's winning that argument.

Long story short, as usual, your guess is as good as mine. Liverpool will keep throwing different things at the wall in the hopes something sticks.

Stoke still frighten, Stoke still provoke the PTSD from Pulls' time in charge, but Stoke are not the same side anymore. Their clean sheet drought is even longer than Liverpool's, their only win since October 19 was against Tottenham, with three losses and two draws during the stretch, including a 1-2 defeat against Burnley. Which was just Burnley's second win of the campaign and first away from home.

Mark Hughes' side plays the same 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid they did last season, but with Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf as the main attackers, relegating Crouch to the substitutes' bench. Incidentally, both are very good on the counter, which Diouf proved to excellent effect in the 1-0 win at Manchester City early in the campaign. I'm sure Liverpool fans will have fond memories of Victor Moses, Charlie Adam, and Oussama Assaidi, but Moses has a thigh problem and Adam and Assiaidi haven't started since October 25th and September 23th respectively.

Besides Moses, Huth and Odemwingie will be out injured, while Begovic, Cameron, Bardsley, Pieters, and Wilson are all be subject to late decisions. The first three are reportedly ill, the last two back in training, so I suspect all will be available to start. Which would make Stoke's likely XI: Begovic; Bardsley, Shawcross, Cameron, Pieters; N'Zonzi, Sidwell; Walters, Bojan, Arnautovic; Diouf. If Begovic's out, Sorenson. If Cameron's out, Muniesa, who'd also be Pieters' replacement, or Wilson. Cameron could also play at right-back if needed. Stoke could be missing a lot of players, especially in defense, and subsequently struggle to cope, or they could deploy a near-strength XI.

Either way, knowing where Liverpool are at the moment, I'm certain it won't be easy. Nothing (except for Tottenham) has been easy this season.

Tomorrow is Liverpool's last chance to win in November, without a victory since beating Swansea in the League Cup on October 28. It's a less effective statistic now that Liverpool actually took a point in the Champions League on Wednesday, but the "haven't lost five consecutive matches since 1953" stat is still valid if you only consider the league.

There were a few and far between signs of optimism on Wednesday, despite the complaints, despite only taking one point, and despite the late goal conceded. Now, back at Anfield and back to league play – where they're still slowly slipping down the table – Liverpool need to build on those few positives. And it has to happen quickly.


Anonymous said...

Damn, not on TV? I have to watch this on my computer. Awful.

Anonymous said...

Rodgers stubbornly refuses to start any league game without Gerrard. He is incapable of facing reality in this regard. At least sub him off when his legs are gone at 60 minutes. You can't play football without legs. Not even Stevie.