(Photo credit: Reuters/PETER POWELL)
12:30 BST, Saturday 28th April, Anfield (Liverpool, England) Sky Sports
Jürgen Klopp must find a way to bring his players back to Premier League reality after a dream showing in Europe this week.
Unbeaten in the league over the last five games and without a league defeat at Anfield in over a year now, Liverpool will be heavy favourites to keep these runs going against a team who have never won a top-flight league match at Anfield.
This game could quite possibly see the light go out on Stoke’s prospects of staying in the Premier League. A defeat coupled with other results at the foot of the table going against them will leave Championship football next season a certainty.
Paul Lambert’s side have shown plenty of fight in recent weeks but they really need to see some reward for their efforts this weekend.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 5-2 AS Roma (Champions League)
Liverpool sent another strong statement reverberating around Europe as they savaged the Romans in spectacular style. Mohamed Salah wrote the headlines with two goals and two assists against his former club. Still though, it was hard to pick out a man of the match, such was the overall standard of Liverpool’s play.
Having weathered a small storm for the opening 20 minutes, Liverpool let loose a hurricane during the hour which followed. Sadio Mané was guilty of wasting two gilt-edged chances before Salah finally opened the scoring in the 35th minute then doubled the advantage on the stroke of half time.
Mané and twice Roberto Firmino then stretched the lead to five without reply as the Reds looked like scoring every time they had the ball. The final ten minutes saw Roma pull two away goals out of the bag, the second of which an unfortunate penalty after a shot hit the impressive James Milner’s arm, however, it did little to dampen the exuberance on Merseyside.
Stoke City 1-1 Burnley (Premier League)
The Potters were yet again left feeling deflated as another equalising goal saw them turn a victory into a disappointing point. It was another solid but largely unambitious performance from Stoke who had the better of the first half that started well enough with Badou Ndiaye’s early strike.
Mame Biram Diouf should then have doubled their lead, however, after the interval they were faced by a reinvigorated Burnley team.
Jack Butland showed a return to form with a string of important saves to keep the Potters in the match but Ashley Barnes’ deflected shot sneaked into the corner of the net after an hour’s play. While Stoke’s industry and passion earned them a deserved point, they lacked the composure and belief to earn all three in what’s becoming the story of Paul Lambert’s reign at Stoke.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) joins Emre Can (back) and Adam Lallana (thigh) on the sidelines to leave a shortage of midfield options while Joel Matip (thigh) and Sadio Mané (knock) are expected to sit out too. Nathaniel Clyne has recovered from a knock which should see him return to the starting lineup along with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke who could be rotated into the team.
Stoke City Lineup
Charlie Adam is available again after completing his suspension but Konstantinos Stafylidis (rib) Glen Johnson (groin) and Eric Choupo-Moting (knock) all remain out of action. After naming predominantly the same starting lineup over the last three matches, Lambert is likely to stick with his favoured 11 again for this fixture.
Key Battle: Danny Ings (Liverpool) vs Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City)
Ings has battled back from several injuries over the years, cutting short what once appeared to be a promising career. His sixth league appearance of the season last weekend saw him score his first goal in 930 days and will surely have provided a significant boost to his morale.
Likely to be afforded his third start of the season and only his sixth ever start in a Liverpool shirt, he has a very real chance of finishing this season on a high which nobody would begrudge him of.
Diouf is another player who has failed to live up to his potential for much of this season. While Mark Hughes played the striker as a right wing-back rather than at the tip of Stoke’s attack for much of the campaign, he’s often failed to convert chances which have fallen his way. Unlike some of his teammates, he can’t be accused of lacking effort during his performances this term and he will be sure to do the hard work again this weekend.
A fallen Ox
Every World Cup summer sees a player make a late surge of form which makes a compelling bid for a starting berth in his national side. These summers also see a potentially crucial player sidelined from the tournament through injury. In the case Oxlade-Chamberlain, we have both of these things wrapped together.
The ex-Arsenal midfielder has come into his own during the last couple of months and seemed assured of a starring role in Russia this June. Having proven his critics and many Arsenal fans wrong, he suffered the heartbreak of serious injury only 18 minutes into the Champions League semifinal against Roma. In a game of fine margins and what-if situations, the Ox will be left to watch on rather than play in only 50 days time.
No good players
Stoke have cancelled their traditional end of season awards ceremony as the Potters hierarchy believe none of their team of deserving of a player-of-the-year award. Having also cast Saido Berahino and Jesé Rodríguez firmly away from the first team this week, there is a feeling they have hit a rock-bottom point in their recent history.
With up being the logical next move for the club, there’s also the feeling that Lambert is currently sweeping the Potters decks to put right the club’s ills. It may not be quite enough to save them this season but it should put them into a much stronger position for the start of next.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Stoke City
Liverpool have drawn both of their previous two league matches following a return from European competition and it could be a similar story this weekend. Stoke have the look of a team who can’t secure a win and they may miss out again on Saturday despite a golden opportunity against what’s expected to be a heavily rotated side.
Do you think Stoke stand a chance of staying up? Let us know in the comments section below.