27 April 2018

Liverpool v Stoke 04.28.18

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 11.29.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.08.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.27.16
4-1 Liverpool (h) 04.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-2 Roma (h); 2-2 West Brom (a); 3-0 Bournemouth (h)
Stoke: 1-1 Burnley (h); 1-1 West Ham (a); 1-2 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 31; Firmino 15; Mané 10; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Ings, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Stoke: Shaqiri 7; Diouf 6; Choupo-Moting 5; Crouch 4; Allen, Sobhi 2; Fletcher, Jese, Ndiaye, Shawcross, Zouma 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Wijnaldum Henderson Milner
Salah Ings Firmino

I don't think there will be as many changes as you think there will be.

Let's assume Mané is rested after vague-but-worrying "he's injured!" nonsense taking over the internet yesterday. Probably Clyne for Alexander-Arnold as well. Maybe Moreno for Robertson and/or Klavan for Lovren, although I'd be a bit concerned about deploying the same back four as at West Brom. But otherwise, this should be a full-strength team. Yes, even with Roma on Wednesday.

Liverpool still need probably four more points from the final three games. Here are three of them. And it's not as if we're overflowing with options. Those are the three midfielders. You'd prefer none of the front three miss out given how reliant Liverpool are on them.

Maybe we get 4-4-2. That'd help with resting a central midfielder, that'd be a more comfortable formation for both Firmino and Ings (or Salah and Ings). But then there's the question of who plays on the flanks. Salah on the right, but either in a deeper role or with the full-back needing to sit deeper? And on the left – Moreno, Woodburn, Milner?

We haven't seen Klopp switch formations – at least the starting formation – for a few months now. Since the winter. Since around the time these sides last spoke. When, incidentally, Liverpool played 4-4-2. When, incidentally, Liverpool also had Oxlade-Chamberlain, Can, and Mané all available. And the game still wasn't truly won until Salah came off the bench in the 67th minute.

Meanwhile, Stoke. Stoke aren't all but mathematically out of the league, as West Brom were last week, but the gap's four points and goal difference, and they've played a game more than the four teams directly above.

The last three matches are symptomatic of Stoke's season. There's still a chance. Just get a win, or two, by any means necessary. Nope. Keep it close against Tottenham at home, concede but get one back, but concede again within minutes. Seemingly get a last-20-minutes winner at West Ham, then let Andy Carroll score in the 90th minute. Take an early lead against Burnley, don't get a second, eventually concede midway through the second half. One, a loss when a draw would have been okay considering opposition, but more important were the two draws in matches that you could have won.

Good enough for one goal. Rarely good enough for two. Rarely good enough to get the win you so desperately need. Close, touching-distance close, but no better than close.

Stoke haven't won a match since January 20, a 2-0 home win against Huddersfield. Since then, six draws, five losses. In case you were curious why Stoke are going to be relegated. They've conceded three goals just once over that stretch, 0-3 at Arsenal with all three goals after the 75th minute, but they've conceded at least once in nine, the only two exceptions 0-0 draws against Watford and Southampton.

So, seems like a 2-0 or 3-0 home win, something similar to Huddersfield, Southampton, Newcastle, Bournemouth over the last couple of months. Something that should have happened last week at West Brom as well.

But there is the small problem of Paul Lambert.

Liverpool have never beaten a Paul Lambert side at Anfield. 1-1 Norwich, 1-3 Villa, 2-2 Villa, 0-1 Villa, 1-2 Wolves. I remember every single one of those matches and I hated every single one of those matches. Now would be a good time to break that streak.

I understandably haven't been watching much Stoke this season, so my best guess at an XI is similar to last week's against Burnley. Something like Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Shaqiri, Allen, Ndiaye, Bauer; Crouch, Diouf. Maybe Sobhi or Ireland come in for Bauer, a full-back who's been used as a winger lately. Maybe it's 4-4-1-1 rather than 4-4-2, with Shaqiri in the hole and both Bauer and Sobhi on the flanks, with one of Crouch or Diouf left out. I believe Darren Fletcher is a player who still exists if you really want to pack the midfield. Choupo-Moting, Stafylidis, and Grant are out injured; Wimmer and Glen Johnson are doubtful.

It's almost become rote, but Liverpool cannot look past this to Wednesday. Liverpool cannot do what Liverpool did last week, at least in the last 15 minutes. Or the last 15 minutes on Tuesday.

This is the terrifying part of the season. Things to play for, both domestically and in Europe. A rapidly thinning squad. But optimism. And optimism is always terrifying.

But this is still the Liverpool side that's gotten us to this point. So show us. And show Stoke.

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