Liverpool are strong favourites to see off Stoke City at Anfield on Tuesday, as the Reds look to stay in touch with Chelsea in the Premier League title race.
Liverpool vs. Stoke City
Tuesday, December 27, 2016 – 5:15pm (GMT)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Who else is still buzzing after that last-gasp win at Everton?
The importance of Sadio Mane‘s last-minute winner was enormous in the grand scheme of things, getting Liverpool’s title charge back on track and highlighting a new-found ruthlessness.
The Reds have recovered impressively from disappointing results against Bournemouth and West Ham, winning successive away games and sitting second in the table, on 37 points.
The gap between them and Chelsea at the top is six points—a more-than-achievable gap to narrow between now and May.
The Potters are enjoying a typically solid campaign, currently sitting 11th in the table, and Mark Hughes continues to do a good job at the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke will feel they can cause an upset, using West Ham’s performance in the last game at Anfield as inspiration, but Liverpool should still get the job done.
Every match now feels like a cup final—three more points are a must.
Last Meeting: Liverpool 4-1 Stoke City
We spoke to David Cowlishaw from the Wizards Of Drivel podcast (@wizardsofdrivel) to get the lowdown on Stoke’s season and their chances of victory against Liverpool.
What mark out of 10 would you give Stoke’s season so far? Happy with Mark Hughes?
After a terrible run at the start of the season, culminating in an embarrassing display at Selhurst Park, many were calling for Hughes to go. The calls for ‘Hughes Out’ weren’t so much that we started poorly, but that it was a continuation of the terrible end to last season.
After that though, we steadied the ship, picking up important wins against relegation candidates and getting good away points, particularly at Old Trafford.
Hughes has his moments, but the big frustration with him is he is inconsistent. He doesn’t have faith in systems and formations, he quickly loses faith his players, and his subs are baffling. The Leicester game, where we were 2-0 up against 10 men and didn’t win, was one of Hughes’ worst managerial performances.
I would say the majority of Stoke fans are happy with Sparky for the moment. I think that comes from an appreciation that he has improved our quality of football and three consecutive ninth-place finishes for us is a dream come true. Whether he can take us to the fabled ‘next level’ is a different matter entirely.
Joe Allen became a real favourite at Anfield last season—how has he performed for the Potters?
Everyone loves Joe Allen. He’s a quality player, and I was really surprised you guys let him go. I expected his good range of passing, calmness in possession and exceptional work rate, what I didn’t expect was him to be so good going forward.
Five goals for us this season so far, he’s become more of a Frank Lampard type, often playing in the No. 10 role. Arguably our best player of the season, his presence has had a knock-on effect of disrupting the midfield slightly.
I’d prefer him slightly more withdrawn with a destroyer type alongside him, but I can’t complain with how he’s performed for us further forward. He’s ace.
What do you make of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp? Title challengers or top four at best?
I think this winter period will allow us to see what you guys are really made of. Those were huge points for you at Everton, and if you can see off us and Man City you’ll definitely be challenging Chelsea for the title.
Klopp’s been a great addition to the league and has got you guys playing some cracking football, but you’ve still got a bit of a soft underbelly which the Bournemouth game showed.
I really like Sadio Mane—he’s got all the attributes you want from a forward player—and of course players like Coutinho and Firmino can produce magic from nowhere.
I reckon you’ll finish third. Chelsea look unbeatable at present, and I think Man City‘s quality will tell in the long run, but you seem to have a lot more about you than Arsenal, Spurs and Man United.
Hit me with your prediction for Tuesday’s game—how do you see it panning out?
I know we won in normal time at Anfield in the League Cup last season, but I can’t see anything other than a Liverpool win here. The Leicester result will have rocked us a bit, and Marko Arnautovic is a huge miss through suspension.
I just hope we come there and give it a go, because if we sit back you’ll pick us off. The hope is to see the likes of Ramadan Sobhi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan running at you, but I worry Hughes will panic and play Peter Crouch.
3-1 to you guys. We’ll level it up before half-time but your quality will tell in the second half. I hope I’m wrong, of course, but we’re not coming to Merseyside full of Christmas cheer.
Just as a side note, having a game on December 27 is pointless garbage.
Philippe Coutinho is still not fit enough to feature, although Liverpool’s Brazilian talisman could make his comeback against City on New Year’s Eve.
Daniel Sturridge is in contention to start against Stoke, following his impressive cameo at Goodison Park, but a place on the substitutes’ bench appears more likely.
Stoke have been boosted by the news that Ibrahim Afellay will return from injury, having missed eight months with a serious knee problem.
Jack Butland, Phil Bardsley and Geoff Cameron are all out, however, while Stephen Ireland remains a long-term absentee with a broken leg. Marko Arnautovic is suspended.
Liverpool – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 1-0 vs. Everton
Won 3-0 vs. Middlesbrough
Drew 2-2 vs. West Ham
Lost 4-3 vs. Bournemouth
Won 2-0 vs. Leeds
Stoke – Last five results (all competitions)
Drew 2-2 vs. Leicester
Drew 0-0 vs. Southampton
Lost 3-1 vs. Arsenal
Won 2-0 vs. Burnley
Won 1-0 vs. Watford
Klopp confirmed that Coutinho will not be fast-tracked back for Tuesday’s game—an approach he has always stood by during his managerial career:
“Unfortunately we don’t have him back in training. He makes his own training, that’s a big difference.
“Before we have him in training, there’s no reason to think when he’s back.
“We can’t rush the decision, we don’t want to rush the decision. We have to accept the big steps in his improvement, with his serious injury.
“It wasn’t something, it was a decent injury, or it is still. We need to wait.
“Whenever he’s back, the season is long enough to help us. We can’t rush it because of a few games.”
One to Watch: Joe Allen
Allen became something of a cult hero during his time as a Liverpool player, and he will be given a warm welcome on Tuesday.
The Welshman joined Stoke in the summer—he never quite had the physical attributes to thrive long-term under Klopp—and he has been their standout player so far this season.
Allen has occupied a more attack-minded midfield role, and his quality in the final third has shone through, with the 26-year-old scoring five and assisting another four in 18 games.
A very intelligent player capable of opening up the Reds’ defence, Allen will be keen to prove a point against his former employers.
UK TV Info
With 16 of the 20 Premier League teams playing on Boxing Day, Liverpool’s showdown with Stoke takes centre stage the following day.
Liverpool vs. Stoke is being shown live on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, which is available to stream live with a NOW TV day pass.
This Is Anfield readers can get a month’s NOW TV Sports Pass for just £10.99 to watch Liverpool vs. Stoke (27/12), Southampton vs. Liverpool (11/01), Man United vs. Liverpool (15/01), Liverpool vs. Southampton (25/01) and all Sky Sports channels live.
Alternatively, you could follow This is Anfield’s matchday live blog, which will be running from 4:30pm and bringing you minute-by-minute updates from Anfield.