The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Stoke
More trouble on Merseyside.
- Ludogorets 2-2 Liverpool (CL)
- Palace 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (CL)
- Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Stoke 1-2 Burnley (Prem)
- Spurs 1-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Stoke 2-3 So’ton (LC)
- So’ton 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
Liverpool were inert for all bar the opening 90 seconds at Crystal Palace last Sunday. No spark. No creativity in a third straight defeat. No players seemingly capable of extricating last season’s Premier League runners-up from the depressive pallor that now hangs with semi-permanence at Anfield.
The Reds haven’t lost four consecutive league games since the 2002/03 season, the heart of an 11-game winless run under Gerard Houllier that stretched from early November until mid January.
That campaign also came after finishing second the previous season, struggling to deal with the rigours of Champions League football and after a calamitous post-World Cup transfer policy.
For Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic in 2014, read El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Alou Diarra 12 years ago.
Both Jamie Carragher, himself part of that Houllier cold streak in 2002/03, and Gary Neville on Monday Night Football have since savaged the Reds for a lack of leadership and pressing respectively. Put simply, Brendan Rodgers’ men look afraid. They’re getting bullied. “Lead legs,” as G-Nev called them on Monday.
They may only be five points off the final Champions League place, but that says more about the current state of many teams above them than anything else.
Chelsea are great and will yawn their way to the league, while everyone else bar Southampton will have to employ a lethal cocktail of Pro Plus (other caffeine tablets are available), Red Bull (other energy drinks are available) and cocaine (other, more legal, drugs are available) to inspire themselves out of entropy.
Conversely, the Reds are only four points above the relegation zone. Things have to improve, and quickly.
Statistically speaking, Liverpool aren’t facing Stoke at a good time. The Potters haven’t repeated a result in 12 games and lost last time out to Burnley. In theory, it should be a win or a draw for Mark Hughes’ men.
As that stat would indicate, Stoke are gloriously consistent in their inconsistency. They’ve beaten Manchester City and Spurs away, but lost to Aston Villa and Sunderland, both of whom are, frankly, awful.
Such difference in form shouldn’t necessarily come as too much of a surprise. Marko Arnautovic, Victor Moses and Bojan are all talented, but seem incapable of delivering a full repertoire of such skill on a regular basis.
Likely to start with Moses injured for two months with a thigh strain, Arnautovic will be keen to impress, as will ex-Manchester United forward Mame Biram Diouf.
Underpinned by an uber-consistent (oh, the irony) defence and a fine goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, Stoke could well inflict further Merseyside hurt. Then again, they have lost 25 of their last 29 visits to Anfield.
Jordan Henderson has shaken off an illness and will return, but Mario Balotelli faces a late test to determine whether he can return from the injury picked up with Italy. Jose Enrique and Mamadou Sakho are both nearing returns from respective knee and thigh injuries. Moses joins Robert Huth and Peter Odemwingie as a long-term absentee, while Marc Wilson and Erik Pieters should overcome knocks to start. Asmir Begovic, Phil Bardsley and Geoff Cameron have been unwell. Oussama Assaidi, on loan from Liverpool, is ineligible.
Key battle: Rickie Lambert vs Ryan Shawcross
Lambert has scored in three of his last four games against Stoke and should start, even if Balotelli returns from injury, with his physique more likely to challenge Stoke’s backline than Fabio Borini’s impish running.
Perhaps the sole bonus of the Palace debacle was Lambert and Adam Lallana’s re-connection since upping sticks from Southampton, and Rodgers must seek to play on that after the latter’s assist for the former.
Big, strong and excellent in the air, Shawcross is perhaps unlucky to be so consistently overlooked at international level. True, he may sail close to the wind in some games with his aggressive brand of defensive diligence, but against Spurs in Stoke’s last Premier League win, the former Manchester United youth was an impregnable wall. What Louis van Gaal would give for someone like that now.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 3-5 L’pool (PL, Jan 14)
- L’pool 1-0 Stoke (PL, Aug 13)
- Stoke 3-1 L’pool (PL, Dec 12)
- L’pool 0-0 Stoke (PL, Oct 12)
- L’pool 2-1 Stoke (FAC, Mar 12)
Rodgers still has enough change in the bank before the vultures circle closer, but results and performances must improve. His recent substitutions have failed to convince, either.
Against Chelsea, Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn – despite being Liverpool’s best player – yet played all 90 minutes in a far less effective display.
The longer the winless run continues, though (and the more north London parks Jurgen Klopp visits), the thinner the ice becomes.
Hughes is on far stronger ground. Stoke play better football now than when he took over, and last year was an impressive first season. If he can elicit more consistency from his attacking players, and shore up unusually shaky home form, then more success could follow.
Facts and figures
- Stoke have scored 1 goal in their last 13 league visits to Anfield, failing to net in any of their last 8 matches there.
- Along with Aston Villa, Liverpool are the only team not to score a headed goal in the Premier League this season.
- Of Peter Crouch’s 90 Premier League goals, 27 have come for Stoke (the most), 22 for Liverpool (second most).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Liverpool can’t defend, but neither can Stoke attack all that well. 1-1.
Back 1-1 at 7/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication