Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday January 10 2014
Barclays Premier League
Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday afternoon with a trip to Stoke City.
The fixture promises to be a challenge for Brendan Rodgers and his players with the Reds losing on their last three league visits to the Britannia Stadium.
Liverpool are back in the Champions League places after a 2-0 victory over Hull City on New Year's Day. The likelihood though is they will need to significantly improve on an away record that currently features only three wins in ten (D3 L4) if they want to stay there.
Although Stoke seemingly sit comfortably in mid-table (12th), the Potters are only five points above the dropzone and have a poor goal difference of -11.
The hosts are still trying to adjust to the methods and tactics of new boss Mark Hughes after Tony Pulis' seven year reign ended at the end of last season.
Rogers: "It's a difficult place to get a result and Liverpool's record there hasn't been so good. We weren't very good there last year; it's as simple as that.
"Our performance level didn't merit a result [in the 3-1 loss]. Even on the best of days, it's a tough place to go and their record this year has proven that as well - they've only lost once.
"If it's a blustery day there, it can be difficult to play your football, but for us we go with real strong intentions to get a result."
There are likely to be a number of changes to the side which prevailed 2-1 in the recent FA Cup tie with Leicester City. On-loan winger Oussama Assaidi, who has scored three times in the last eight matches, will definitely miss out as he is unavailable against his parent club. The players in line for a return to the starting X1 include Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch but there are fitness concerns over defender Robert Huth (knee) and midfielder Stephen Ireland (hamstring). England international Jack Butland will continue in goal after veteran shot stopper Thomas Sorensen (Achilles) joined first choice keeper Asmir Begovic (broken finger) in the treatment room. A troublesome heel is likely to keep full-back Andy Wilkinson on the sidelines.
Butland, Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Whelan, Adam, Ireland, Arnautovic, Walters, Crouch
The popular ex-Liverpool striker, now in his third full season at the Britannia, remains Stoke's most expensive signing ever at £10million. Crouch is the club's joint leading scorer this term but with just five goals to his name will want to find the net on a more regular basis in 2014. The ex-England international has re-established himself as the club's number one forward in recent weeks after being dropped by Hughes earlier in the season. Even when he isn't scoring the 32-year-old remains a nightmare to play against due to his stature, intelligence and underrated technique.
Vice-captain Daniel Agger will miss the game, and around a month, as a result of a calf injury picked up in last weekend's 2-0 FA Cup win over Oldham Athletic. Fortunately for the Reds fellow centre-back Mamadou Sakko is expected to make a much quicker than expected comeback from a hamstring strain suffered at the end of December. The Frenchman might not quite make this fixture but he certainly won't be sidelined for the six weeks initially predicted. The likelihood therefore is Kolo Toure will take over and play alongside Martin Skrtel at the heart of the defence. Striker Daniel Sturridge is likely to be amongst the substitutes after missing the whole of December with an ankle injury. Elsewhere, Joe Allen (abductor) and Jon Flanagan (hamstring) are targeting returns against Aston Villa next weekend. Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates remain longer-term absentees.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez
Although Stoke are gradually updating their style of play to be less reliant on long balls, they remain a direct team with a robust approach to the game. In the absence of Agger and Sakho, the onus will fall on Toure to partner Skrtel in combating the threat of Crouch and co from the heart of the defence. The Ivorian, a summer free transfer from Manchester City, made an impressive start to his Liverpool career but has featured sparingly over the past couple of months. His last league start ended in a shock 3-1 defeat at Hull City on December 1.
• Liverpool and Stoke have met 125 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 62 wins to 29 and 34 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 205 goals compared to a tally of 127 by the Potters.
• Results since Stoke earned promotion to the Premier League in 2008 are even; both sides have won three times and there have been five draws.
• Liverpool have not won a league fixture at the Britannia during that time however. In fact their last away league triumph over Stoke came courtesy of a late Ronnie Whelan goal in November 1984 at the old Victoria Ground.
• Liverpool have won just one of their last seven Premier League away games (5-0 vs. Tottenham Hotspur) and have conceded at least twice in the six others.
• Former Reds midfielder Charlie Adam is Stoke City's top scorer in the league this season with four goals. Luis Suarez leads the way for Liverpool with 20.
Anthony Taylor is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The Cheshire based whistle blower has taken charge of 17 games so far this season, showing 59 yellow cards and two red. Taylor has taken charge of two previous fixtures involving Liverpool this term; the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace in October and the 5-1 thrashing of Norwich City last month. The 35-year-old has been a member of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2010 and joined FIFA's list for European and international matches last year.
The Britannia is always a tough place to go and this trip is unlikely to prove any different despite Stoke suffering a couple of big defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in recent weeks. Our neighbours and fellow Champions League chasers Everton were fortunate to come away with a point, courtesy of a late penalty, on New Year's Day and that has to be the minimum aim. The Potters remain a strong, physically imposing side and the key to a Liverpool victory is likely to lie in our ability to avoid getting into a battle and continuing to deploy our brand of expansive, attacking football successfully. Hopefully consecutive clean sheets are a sign that we are tightening things up at the back because that will help considerably in the quest for victory. The sensible prediction might be a draw but I fancy us to nick all three points by a single goal.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 1-2 win
Liverpool - Premier League vs. Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday 18th January 2014, kick off 5.30pm GMT.
Stoke City - Premier League vs. Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday 18th January 2014, kick off 3.00pm GMT.
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Date:Friday January 10 2014
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