25 January 2016

Liverpool v Stoke 01.25.16

2:45pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 01.05.16
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.09.15
1-6 Stoke (a) 05.24.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-4 Norwich (a); 3-0 Exeter (h); 0-1 United (a)
Stoke: 0-3 Leicester (a); 0-0 Arsenal (h); 3-1 Norwich (h)

Previous Rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Stoke (a); 6-1 Southampton (a); 1-0 Bournemouth (h); 1-1 Carlisle aet [3-2 pens] (h)
Stoke: 0-1 Liverpool (h); 2-0 Sheff Wed (h); 1-1 Chelsea aet [5-4 pens] (h); 1-0 Fulham (a); 1-1 Luton aet [8-7 pens] (a)

Goalscorers (League Cup):
Liverpool: Origi 3; Ibe, Sturridge 2; Clyne, Ings 1
Stoke: Walters 2; Affelay, Bardsley, Crouch 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Toure Sakho Moreno
Henderson Lucas Can
Milner Firmino Lallana

Once again, it'll be a familiar Liverpool, but once again, Jürgen Klopp has a few tough choices to make due to both recent and lingering injuries as well as fixture congestion.

You have to assume Lallana's replacing Ibe in the starting XI, Ibe noticeably unimpressive while Lallana changed the game, responsible for an assist to make it 3-3 and a 95th-minute goal to make it 5-4 on Saturday.

Lovren's available for the first time since his injury at Stoke, but does he return straight away or does Klopp stick with Toure and Sakho? Consistency in defense is usually a good thing, but might not be for a defense that conceded four goals to Norwich on Saturday, and eight goals in its last three matches.

Meanwhile, Nat Clyne's doubtful with a knee problem incurred against Norwich. Can he play through it, will Liverpool hand Jon Flanagan a first start since the last day of 2013-14, or will 20-year-old Connor Randall start in a cup semi-final, in what would be just his fifth-ever start for the club?

Can Lucas play another 90 minutes just three days, a third start in the last nine days? And if he can't, is he replaced by Allen – basically a straight swap – or Ibe or Benteke, switching Liverpool to more of a 4-2-3-1?

It's hard to draw many conclusions about Stoke's form from what they've done since the last meeting, because they've been consistently inconsistent. A narrow win with a much-changed side in the FA Cup. A straight-forward 3-1 home win over Norwich. A deserved but tepid 0-0 home draw with Arsenal, offering little in attack but excellent in defense. And finally, an absolute demolition by Leicester at Leicester, an emphatic 0-3 set-back, in a match where Stoke has to replace its captain and best defender in Shawcross due to injury, and where both Bojan and Arnautovic were protected due to minor injuries.

While nowhere near as bad Liverpool's casualty list, Stoke will be missing a couple of key players as well. Both Geoff Cameron and Shawcross will be absent. But after missing out against at Leicester, both Bojan and Arnautovic should be available.

Marc Wilson came on in place of Shawcross on Saturday, but Muniesa's also an option in central defense. In Cameron's absence, Affelay has played in central midfield with Whelan – as he did after Walters replaced Cameron at halftime in the previous meeting – with Bojan as the #10 and Joselu up front, but Hughes could play slightly more conservative tomorrow, with either van Ginkel or Adam partnering Whelan and Affelay further forward. And. lurking in the background, as seemingly always, is Jon Walters, a player who could start up front or in the attacking line of three, and a player who loves to face Liverpool.

Still, it's probably safe to assume that Butland; Johnson, Wilson, Wollscheid, Pieters; Whelan, Affelay; Shaqiri, Bojan, Arnautovic; Joselu will be the starting XI.

Can Liverpool do what they did in the last leg? There, Liverpool started the brighter side, took the game to Stoke, coped with injuries to Coutinho and Lovren, and made the breakthrough in the 37th minute. And for the next hour or so, Liverpool were pinned back, with Stoke dominating possession, attempting more shots (15) than all but one opponent that Liverpool faced since Klopp became manager. Stoke had more than 60% possession; Stoke completed more than twice as many passes as Liverpool.

But somehow Liverpool won, clinging on to its 1-0 lead, mostly smothering Stoke despite Stoke's overwhelming control, most of those 15 Stoke shots failing to threaten.

It was similar to how Liverpool beat both Leicester and Sunderland in the run-in to that match, even if Liverpool were the "better" side in both of those victories. it's certainly not how Liverpool have played since: conceding three against Arsenal, conceding one against United which was very much against the run of play, and conceding four – four! – against Norwich.

Can Liverpool be as diligent and secure, protecting their slender first-leg advantage, and maybe even extending that first-leg advantage? Will Liverpool sit back with seven or eight outfield players in their defensive half before counter-attack at pace with Firmino, Lallana, Ibe and/or Milner? Or will Liverpool look to take the game to Stoke, push the opposition back, searching for what would be a very helpful second goal before applying the breaks?

I've no idea. But it'll decide who travels to Wembley for a cup final: Stoke for the first time in this competition for 40-plus years, or Liverpool in Jürgen Klopp's first season. And both sides could desperately use the boost that a cup final brings.

1 comment :

Pete_89 said...

Although I can see it being a tight affair with very few goals in it (1-0 or 1-1), I love these odds of a repeat of the 9 goal thriller at Norwich ! https://betfect.com/betting/football/liverpool-v-stoke/odds/NjYyNzM=