The bet365 Stadium plays host to Stoke City versus Liverpool in a midweek Premier League clash between two sides who each have a point to prove.
Heading into the match, Stoke have endured a week of disappointment. A Monday night draw away to Brighton, in which they twice surrendered a lead in the match to draw 2-2 at the Amex Stadium, was followed by a bitter last-gasp defeat away to Crystal Palace.
Mamadou Sakho’s 92nd minute winner for Roy Hodgson’s Palace was a crushing blow to the Potters, who departed Selhurst Park on the wrong end of a narrow 2-1 score line. That defeat has left Stoke concerningly placed 15th in the league, with only 13 points from as many games.
A return to home soil, following back-to-back disappointments on the road, will surely be of comfort to Mark Hughes’ side.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Hughes heading into this match will be how to fix the current defensive deficiencies which are seeing his side concede important goals at crucial times in games. Against a Liverpool side which is capable of scoring at will, these issues will have to be confronted head-on.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have maximised their attacking potential in recent matches, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah especially firing on all cylinders. It is, however, their defensive problems which have similarly prevented Liverpool from seeing out results of late.
The previous midweek’s capitulation away in Seville, in which they threw away a 3-0 lead in the second half to draw 3-3 with Eduardo Berizzo’s Sevilla, was the clearest indication of the issues confronting Klopp heading into this game.
Having followed the disappointment in Seville with the conceding of an 85th minute equaliser against Chelsea on Saturday night in a 1-1 draw, Liverpool must focus on finding a more efficient balance between unleashing their attacking dynamism and flair, whilst showing greater resolve and defensive toughness to truly earn the results which their offensive potential generally deserves.
Forging a more reliable and consistent partnership in the centre of defence is the key to changing their recent fortunes, and an issue which Klopp must resolve. Having dropped to sixth in the league, Liverpool must get back to winning ways in their efforts to once again finish in the top four and solidify their Champions League status.
This fixture saw Liverpool stage an impressive second half recovery from 1-0 down last season, with quick-fire goals from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the final 20 minutes of the game securing a hard-fought 2-1 win at the bet365 for Klopp’s side.
Those two are likely to be key figures again for Liverpool in this season’s instalment, although the recent goal-scoring exploits of Mohamed Salah and the returns to fitness and form for Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana should ease the burdens of attacking influence from the shoulders of the Brazilian duo.
Following the returns of Adam Lallana and Joel Matip against Chelsea, Nathaniel Clyne is Liverpool’s only significant absence through injury.
Stoke, meanwhile, remain without first-choice ‘keeper, Jack Butland, with Lee Grant set to continue as his deputy in goal for this match, whilst Geoff Cameron and Stephen Ireland also remain side-lined.
Much of Stoke’s hopes for a positive result will depend on the attacking threat of Maxim Choupo-Moting, who is set to continue in leading the line for the Potters, whilst the back-three unit of Ryan Shawcross, Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer must be resolute against a Liverpool frontline which could well provide them with their toughest test of the season.
Whilst Stoke have the experience and personnel to cause Liverpool problems, Jurgen Klopp’s abundance of attacking talent and the current form of deadly duo Mane and Salah should see the Merseyside outfit outclass and overpower Mark Hughes’ Potters.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-4 Liverpool