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Last four head-to-head:
1-6 Stoke (a) 05.24.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.14
5-3 Liverpool (a) 01.12.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.13
Last three preseason matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Swindon (a); 2-0 HJK (a); 1-1 Malaysia (a)
Stoke: 0-3 Porto (a); 1-2 Köln (a); 0-2 Brentford (a)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Who, coincidentally, was in charge of the 1-6 loss at Stoke last May. Coincidentally.
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Gomez
Ibe Benteke Lallana
I can't decide whether returning to the scene of the crime as soon as possible is healthy or harmful. Psychologists suggest facing your fears helps you get over those fears, but I think I'd prefer a few confidence-building fixtures before the Britannia PTSD.
At the least, Liverpool will get an immediate chance to prove this season will be different than the last.
Sunday's Liverpool side should look an awful lot like the one we saw last Saturday at HJK Helsinki, but with Benteke in place of Ings. Kind of 4-2-3-1, kind of 4-3-3, depending on how deep Henderson sits. Just like throughout preseason.
Maybe Firmino gets thrown into the deep end as well, but I suspect he'll be brought along more slowly – relatively speaking – used off the bench if at all. Maybe Lucas starts as the deepest midfielder, a more orthodox 4-3-3, with one of Ibe or Lallana left out. Maybe all the noise about Gomez starting over Moreno is just noise. Maybe Rodgers comes to his sense and picks Sakho rather than Lovren. But, again, I doubt it.
Liverpool need to start this season quickly, start this season well. It's why we've seen such a settled side in preseason. And Sunday's side will look a lot like those preseason sides.
Just like Liverpool, Stoke's XI will be a bit different than last May's. Not as different as Liverpool's, but Hughes has added a few impressive players: Joselu and Affelay in attack, Wollscheid and Glen Johnson in defense, van Ginkel on loan from Chelsea in midfield. Bojan and Sidwell are fit again after missing the previous meeting. And Stoke already had a reasonably competent attack in Diouf, Crouch, Arnautovic, Odemwingie, and Walters. Mark Hughes is building a surprisingly decent side, one that looks more than capable of challenging for a place in Europe.
I won't pretend to have watched a single second of Stoke's preseason, so guessing at their XI is very much a guess, but I suspect that – again, like Liverpool – it'll be a mix of last season's players and a few of the new signings. Something like Butland; Johnson, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters; Sidwell, van Ginkel; Walters, Adam, Affelay; Diouf.
Joselu could start up front, in place of Diouf or with Diouf on the flank. Bojan or Arnatovic could feature instead of Affelay. Ireland in place of Adam, or pushing Adam deeper in midfield in place of van Ginkel or Sidwell. Stoke actually have a plethora of options. Ryan Shawcross is injured, meaning Stoke's center-backs will be two from Wollscheid, Cameron, Muniesa, and Marc Wilson – and I've no idea which two – while Arnautovic and Wilson will undergo late fitness tests.
Fair warning: for all his faults, Glen Johnson loves scoring against his former clubs. As does Charlie Adam. And Peter Crouch. Sigh. We really could have picked a better match to start the campaign with, Premier League.
But the season is what it is. Yes, yes, one match doesn't make a season, especially the first match, but you can't help take overarching narratives from this one contest. Not after last May's massacre. And it ain't getting any easier after this fixture.
Welcome back, Liverpool.