28 November 2017

Liverpool at Stoke 11.29.17

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.08.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.27.16
4-1 Liverpool (h) 04.10.16
0-1 Stoke (h; League Cup) 01.26.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Southampton (h)
Stoke: 1-2 Palace (a); 2-2 Brighton (a); 2-2 Leicester (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 10; Coutinho, Firmino, Mané 3; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Stoke: Choupo-Moting, Crouch, Diouf, Shaqiri 3; Fletcher, Jese, Zouma 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Matip Klavan Robertson
Wijnaldum Can Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

"Fresh legs" against Chelsea means more options for Liverpool tomorrow. Firmino and Mané will definitely come back into the squad, most likely for Sturridge and Oxlade-Chamberlain. But there's a chance Salah gets a break; only Matip and Mignolet have played more league minutes so far. If that's the case, either Oxlade-Chamberlain keeps his place or Coutinho moves into the front three.

We'll see a few other changes as well. Alexander-Arnold will probably replace Gomez. Wijnaldum should take over for Milner, but maybe Lallana's an option as well. If we're going by minutes played so far this season, you'd have to think Moreno's in contention for a rest. We haven't seen Andrew Robertson in more than two months. And if Can's fit enough to start, Henderson could be left out as well; he looked completely shattered by the end of Saturday's match.

So far, Stoke this season feels like the Stoke of Tony Pulis' last season.

After three consecutive ninth-place seasons, Stoke are only three points outside the relegation zone. It's that "we've stopped getting better, now what?" feeling. They're bang average in goals scored, with Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Crouch, and Diouf contributing, but only Everton have conceded more league goals than Stoke's 26 through 13 league games. Stoke have kept just two clean sheets all season: a 1-0 win at Watford a month ago and, somehow, a 1-0 home win over Arsenal in August. Those are two of Stoke three league wins this season, along with a 2-1 win over Southampton at the end of September. They've won one, drawn two, and lost three of their last six games.

I've no idea if Hughes will rotate much with only four days since their last match, but their XI has been fairly consistent lately. Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jese. Maybe Sobhi starts in place of Jese; maybe Crouch plays up front, given height, set plays, and his history with Liverpool, but he's often more likely off the bench. Jack Butland's still out; Glen Johnson and Geoff Cameron remain doubtful.

1-0 against Arsenal and 2-2 against United were reasonably impressive home results, and should give Liverpool pause in thinking this could be a romp. But 0-4 against Chelsea and 7-2 at Manchester City also show that if Liverpool can get at them early - Chelsea had two goals by the 30th minute, City had three - this could be a hiding. Even considering what we've seen from Liverpool with a one-, two-, and three-goal lead.

Stoke had felt like a curse word in previous season. Especially on a Wednesday night, which will probably be wet. But they haven't been that Stoke this season. And Liverpool can't let them go back to being that Stoke tomorrow. Get over the past two disappointments. Get back to the 3-0 Huddersfield, 4-1 West Ham that we know Liverpool are capable of.

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