10am ET, live in the US on SyFy
Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.14
5-3 Liverpool (a) 01.12.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.13
1-3 Stoke (a) 12.26.13
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Palace (h); 1-1 Chelsea (a); 2-1 QPR (h)
Stoke: 0-0 Burnley (a); 3-0 Spurs (h); 0-2 Swansea (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho, Lallana 5; Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Stoke: Diouf 10; Crouch, Walters 7; Adam 6; Bojan 4; Moses 3; Nzonzi, Shawcross 2; Arnautovic 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Ibe Sterling Lallana
This is it. This season's last waltz, the last chance to dance out of tune, step on each other's toes, and shit in the punch bowl.
I doubt I need remind how much of a disappointment this season has been. Or how terrible the last few weeks after been, most notably those embarrassing losses against Palace and Hull. Liverpool have been going through the motions since elimination from the FA Cup and losses to United and Arsenal doomed the bid for fourth.
Well, Liverpool have to go through the motions one more time. And your guess is as good as mine as to whether those motions will in 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, or whether it'll be Sterling or Lambert or Balotelli up top.
I suspect last week was the exception, and Rodgers would prefer to stick with four at the back, seeing that as the preferred formation for the future, picking three at the back against Palace in the hopes of blunting their speedy counter-attack (sigh). And if that's the case, it'll be Skrtel and Lovren as the center-backs, and Can and either Johnson or Moreno as the full-backs. It'll be Gerrard as the deepest midfielder, with Henderson and Coutinho or Allen between the lines. It'll probably be Sterling up front, despite the last week he's had, Liverpool keeping faith with him to prove they still want him at the club and because there's still no better options. And it'll probably be Lallana and Ibe or Coutinho or Markovic on the flanks.
And hopefully this time will be different from all those other times, because Liverpool need to win tomorrow. If Liverpool lose (or draw) and both Tottenham (at Everton) and Southampton (at City) win, Liverpool will finish 7th, and Liverpool will start their Europa League campaign sometime in July. Late July if Arsenal win the FA Cup but early July if Villa do, meaning that Liverpool would qualify for the Europa League based on the Fair Play Table. Which has an excellent chance of dooming the season before the season even starts.
Meanwhile, Stoke are guaranteed ninth place, their highest Premier League finish, but that shouldn't mean they'll just be going through the motions tomorrow. Hughes won't want to end this campaign with a defeat: a defeat at home, a defeat to Liverpool, a club he loves getting one over on.
Stoke have used the same XI for last two matches, the same front six for last three. So it seems safe to assume we'll see similar, if not the same, tomorrow. Butland; Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Nzonzi; Walters, Adam, Arnautovic; Diouf.
Charlie Adam (I know right!) has been the star lately, with four goals in the last seven matches, his form earning him a recall to the Scotland national team. Mame Biram Diouf hasn't been far behind, with 10 goals this season – more, I'll churlishly note, than any Liverpool player – dangerous on the counter, even if not blessed with the pace that so dismantled Liverpool last week.
Victor Moses, another ex-Liverpool player on Stoke's books (along with Crouch, who's likely to come off the bench), and Bojan are out injured, while Stephen Ireland will be a game-time decision.
Last season – that magical season which has become increasingly harder and harder to remember – notwithstanding, Liverpool have struggled at the Britannia even at the best of times. The 5-3 win 16 months ago was Liverpool's first Premier League win at Stoke since their promotion in 2008-09, with three losses and two draws prior.
I suspect tomorrow will be similarly difficult, because Stoke and because Liverpool. Still. This is the last waltz, more specifically Gerrard's last waltz. After last week's failure, you'd have to believe – well, "want to believe" is probably more appropriate – that Liverpool have one more decent performance in them before we drop the curtain on 2014-15.