Why Simon Mignolet and adapting to tactical switches are keys to victory at Stoke

7 April 2017

A top-four finish is still on the cards, but Liverpool must find consistency. It’s Stoke City next at the Britannia; and here’s everything you need to know.


Stoke City

Premier League form: L-W-D-L-L-L

League position: 12th

Last win: 2-0 vs Middlesbrough, March 4

At home: Six wins, five draws, four defeats

 

Approach

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Monday, April 18, 2016: Stoke City's manager Mark Hughes during the FA Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Britannia Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having previously been a clear 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 side, Stoke boss Mark Hughes switched things up by playing three in defence last time out.

They lost 1-0 at Burnley, but Stoke were reasonably impressive, created a few chances and looked fairly balanced.

Their style is usually rugged and direct, not really a long-ball team but certainly playing forward quickly and not being fussed about controlling the middle third of the pitch.

It often seems that Stoke are very good or very poor for runs of games at a time—so Liverpool will hope this bad patch continues a little longer.

Stoke don’t score many, only four teams have netted fewer, and they also concede the fourth-highest volume of shots. It’s not a good mix, but so far it has kept them in mid-table.

 

Danger Spots

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 27, 2016: Stoke City's Joe Allen in action against Liverpool during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Joe Allen we know all about. He’s aggressive, uses space well and finds clever passes, and he has scored more than his usual share this season, even if most were in the early part of the campaign.

The team as a whole don’t really have a particular style of getting the ball into the box: they rank 14th for long passes per game, short passes per game and crosses per game.

But for a team like Liverpool, that just means that all parts of the defence have to be at the races this time.

(Statistics via WhoScored)

 

Three Keys to Win

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp looks dejected as AFC Bournemouth score a second equalising goal to seal 2-2 draw during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Concentration

Come on, this shouldn’t even be an issue. But it is.

Liverpool won a lot of points and games last season by scoring late on as Jurgen Klopp continually made his rallying cry to fight until the 90th minute, but this year?

In 2016/17, the Reds have failed to see out matches they were winning at the 70-minute mark or later on no fewer than six occasions, and have lost matches they were drawing at that time on a further two.

It’s not good enough, not solid enough, not consistent enough.

Knock-Downs

For a team who don’t send a lot of long balls or a lot of crosses, Stoke get a surprising number of chances from second balls: the striker controlling and laying off the ball, or a diagonal being met by a winger who nods down for a runner from the second line.

The challenge must be made initially, but the follow-up player is just as important.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 27, 2016: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the second goal against Stoke City during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Clinical Edge

Stoke have conceded just 17 in 15 home games. The Reds have conceded 23 in 15 on the road.

It’s not difficult maths: the Potters might not be a hugely prolific team, but they are effective enough in their ways to make it hard for sides, and Liverpool might only get one or two clear chances.

It has to be enough, and once the ball is in the net, we revert you back to point No. 1.

 

Key Men

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 31, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in action against Chelsea during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Simon Mignolet. It’s a difficult game at the Britannia Stadium at the best of times, and even if Stoke aren’t in form right now, Liverpool themselves aren’t exactly unstoppable.

For Stoke, there are a whole crop of ex-Reds who could irritatingly pop up to haunt their former club, but Allen has the most class, consistency and all-round ability.

 

Team news

Jack Butland has been out long term, Xherdan Shaqiri isn’t fit yet and Jon Walters has a knock, but should recover.

Possible XI: Grant; Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Arnautovic, Allen, Cameron, Ramadan; Walters, Berahino

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