Stoke can frustrate Liverpool in opening exchanges
Reds could struggle to crack Potters
Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event, 12.30pm Saturday
The most talented strikeforce in Liverpool history were at it again on Tuesday, putting Roma to the sword in the Champions League – but it’s highly likely the star trio will be dismantled against Stoke, to the delight of Potters boss Paul Lambert.
Just days after Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane chalked up the five goals that saw off one of Italy’s finest, Liverpool go again in the Premier League where a top-four place has yet to be secured.
Dropped points in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at West Brom kept Chelsea in the hunt and ensured that Jurgen Klopp, publicly at least, insists team tweaking will be minimal going into their showdown with struggling Stoke.
But Wednesday’s return leg in Rome is inevitably going to be dominating the German’s thinking and with Sadio Mane struggling for full fitness and fatigue issues elsewhere, expect a few changes.
One thing punters are well aware of is that when the Reds’ lethal front three, who have notched 88 goals between them in this extraordinary campaign, is broken up the Merseysiders are less of a threat.
For example, when Salomon Rondon headed in the Baggies’ equaliser at the Hawthorns last weekend not one of Salah, Mane or Firmino was on the pitch. A fortnight earlier, when Salah and Firmino sat out the clash with Everton, the match ended in a tame 0-0 draw.
Stoke would ordinarily be fearing the worst about a trip to Anfield – they have never won there in 54 top-flight visits and boast a league-low five clean sheets this term. That kind of stat against Liverpool’s attacking zeal would ordinarily lead to only one outcome and the hosts are priced as though they can’t lose.
But they could, plausibly, be held to a draw, at least for a while. Stoke have a few things in their favour and the odds about the stalemate are more alluring than those for a home win.
First, there’s Mane’s fitness and the possibility of one or two changes to Liverpool, who have also lost the dangerous Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the season.
Then there’s Liverpool’s record straight after a Champions League match – they have won only three of their last ten post-European games with five of them ending in draws.
Third, while Stoke are not winning under Lambert they are proving obdurate with six draws in their last 11 games.
And finally, Stoke are a big side who will look to set-plays and knockdowns for joy in the opposition box and, as West Brom proved last weekend, Liverpool are still susceptible to good delivery into the area.
At the very least, consider Stoke holding out until half time. They have conceded only two first-half goals in their last 12 matches.
There’s no doubting this could simply turn into one of those routine Liverpool romps on a playing surface doubtless watered to the specifications that Klopp requires. They are undefeated in the league on their pristine pitch for a calendar year and for periods against Roma on Tuesday they were mouthwatering going forward.
But Stoke are showing resilience. Even the recent 2-1 loss to Tottenham hinted at a team playing with bite and purpose, although an absence of matchwinners in their squad is a major handicap in their quest for the wins that could keep them up.
1pt 8-5 BetBright, Betfair, Paddy Power
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Matip are out for the season. Sadio Mane is a doubt. Adam Lallana and Emre Can are still absentees.
Despite Stoke’s lack of goals, Saido Berahino and Jese remain outcasts. Eric Choupo-Moting is crocked and Glen Johnson is a doubt.
Stoke have conceded only two first-half goals in their last 12 matches.
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