Liverpool finish a testing week full of travelling with a Premier League fixture against Stoke City at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
Thursday night’s improved display in Bulgaria against Ludogorets Razgrad may have prolonged the club’s hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout stages but the conceding of a late equaliser extends the wait for a win to five matches.
That run includes consecutive domestic league defeats to Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Newcastle United which have left the Reds languishing in 12th place in the standings, just four points above the relegation zone.
Stoke, managed by old foe Mark Hughes, are one place and one point better off but suffered a surprise 2-1 home defeat to the previously rock-bottom Burnley last time out.
Rodgers: “We were looking for a response after the performances of recent weeks, and we got that.
“Now we are looking to use this as a springboard. We need to up the level, our standards need to be better in every aspect of the game, and this result and the performance is a springboard to do that.
“The key for us is that we need to get momentum, we need to give the supporters at home some encouragement and some signs that we are improving because up to now it hasn’t been good enough – it is as simple as that.”
Hughes: “There seemed to be a bit of negativity around Spurs a few weeks back and we managed to get our noses in front and that negativity probably helped us and hindered Spurs.
“But to gain an advantage from any negativity you have to start well and, unfortunately, last weekend that wasn’t what we did.
“So we hope to replicate what we did at Spurs, not against Burnley.”
Liverpool Team News:
Liverpool are unlikely to have any of their walking wounded back in time for this game. Italian striker Mario Balotelli has an outside chance of recovering from a calf problem but, even if he is declared fit, it’s unlikely Rickie Lambert will lose his place after two goals in two games. In addition to the well documented absence of striker Daniel Sturridge (thigh), defenders Mamadou Sakho (also thigh) and Jon Flanagan (knee), plus attacking midfielder Suso (groin), also remain unavailable. Selection wise there is growing pressure on Rodgers to drop error prone goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and hand a rare outing to Australian understudy Brad Jones. Lucas Leiva and Kolo Toure will be hopeful of retaining their places after completing the full 90 minutes against Ludogorets.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Lucas, Gerrard (c), Henderson, Lallana, Sterling, Lambert.
Player to watch: Rickie Lambert
He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Lambert at least provides a dependable presence up top who will work hard, hold the ball up well and bring others into play. Seeing the amiable Scouser complete his journey from the lowest tier of professional football to scoring for his boyhood Reds in a Champions League tie is an amazing and inspiring story. In the coming weeks, with games piling up and other options unavailable, Lambert is likely to continue be a crucial part of the starting eleven. If he continues to score regularly it will become increasingly difficult to dislodge him.
Stoke City Team News:
Stoke’s Clayton Wood Training Ground has been reportedly hit by a sickness bug this week with a number of U21 and first team players falling ill – it remains to be seen if anyone will miss the trip to Merseyside as a result. On the injury front, former Liverpool loanee Victor Moses is out for around eight weeks with a thigh injury and joins fellow attacker Peter Odemwingie (knee) on the sidelines. The Potters also have problems at the back with Robert Huth (calf), Dionatan Teixeira (foot), Erik Pieters (knock) and Mark Wilson (hamstring) all doubtful. Reds winger Oussama Assaidi is ineligible to face his parent club but there could be Anfield returns for ex-Reds Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam.
Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross (c), Wilson, Cameron, Sidwell, N’Zonzi, Adam, Walters, Bojan, Crouch.
Player to watch: Bojan Krkic
The former Barcelona star appears to have found his feet in the past few weeks after a difficult start to life in the Premier League. Once viewed as a certain star of the future, Krkic has endured a nomadic existence in recent years after a big money switch to Roma failed to work out. Loan spells with AC Milan and Ajax proved similarly fruitless before Stoke picked up the 24-year-old for the knockdown price of £1.5m over the summer. At his best, Krkic is a technically gifted attacking talent equally adept at creating and scoring goals.
Match Facts & Stats
? Liverpool and Stoke have met 126 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 63 wins to 29 and 34 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 210 goals compared to a tally of 130 by the Potters.
? Stoke have failed to win on their last 29 league visits to Anfield (W0 D4 L25) and haven’t even managed to score in their past eight trips.
? The last meeting between these two sides was Liverpool’s amazing 5-3 victory at the Britannia in January. The eight goals scored matches the amount managed in the previous six matches combined.
? Jonathan Walters, a goalscorer on that day, has four in his last six appearances against the Reds while on the other side Lambert has scored in three of his four Premier League games versus Stoke.
? Along with Aston Villa, Liverpool are the only team not to score a headed goal in the Premier League so far this season.
Relative novice Craig Pawson is the official selected to oversee this contest. The 35-year-old is in his first full season of refereeing in the top flight and has so far shown shown 28 yellow cards and three red in nine fixtures. One of those matches was Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to West Ham United in September. Later in the same month he was also the man in the middle when Stoke City recorded a 1-0 win over Newcastle United.
There were a couple of promising signs on Wednesday night but it’s way too early to think we are playing our way back into any kind of form etc. Stoke are not easy to face at the best of times and I’m worried that this match will set us back massively. Defensively, despite changing personnel and giving the backline better protection from midfield, we were still poor and extremely nervous at times in Sofia and it’s very easy to see Saturday’s visitors having a field day. True, the Potters don’t utilise the same directness as they once did under Tony Pulis, but they remain a big, physical outfit who can exploit our glaring deficiencies at dealing with set-pieces and crosses in particular. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hughes try and exploit the situation by starting both Crouch and Adam, to supply arial threat and quality delivery respectively. After dropping an out-of-sorts Dejan Lovren in midweek it will be interesting to see if Rodgers is now brave enough to remove Mignolet. Victory over Stoke is unlikely to be secured without having a good day at the back and we’ve managed only two clean sheets in 19 fixtures so far this term. Another defeat and Rodgers will really be staring down the barrel.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-2 draw
Liverpool – Premier League vs. Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday 2nd December 2014, kick off 7.45pm GMT.
Stoke City – Premier League vs. Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday 2nd December 2014, kick off 7.45pm GMT.
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Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson’s prediction
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