The Premier League entered the hectic part of the season with this weekend’s fixtures. The roller coaster that is Premier League’s winter schedule will only pick up pace as the midweek fixtures start to roll in. This Wednesday, Liverpool are gearing up for the English football’s proverbial toughness test – a cold windy night at Stoke City. Although Stoke City are a bit under-par this season, it might not be a very easy game for Liverpool.
Stoke City are currently 15th in the Premier League table with 13 points off 13 games, sandwiched between Newcastle in 14th – 14 points, and Everton in 16th – 12 points. Like their visitors on Wednesday night, the Potters faced a torrid October which saw them lose 7-2 to Manchester City and 1-2 (home) to Bournemouth. Their luck seemed to have turned as they won 0-1 against Watford (away) before drawing to Leicester and Brighton and before ultimately losing to Crystal Palace 2-1 (away) on Saturday. Also like Liverpool, Stoke do not have too much trouble in the attack – they have scored 15 and assisted 13 in the league so far. Stoke City have a tough winter coming up with matches against Liverpool and Tottenham interspersed with matches against Swansea, Burnley, West Brom, and West Ham.
With 23 points in 13 games in the league, Liverpool are closer to the 15th placed Stoke than they are to Manchester City at the top (37 points). Before drawing to top-four rivals Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpool had won three consecutive league games by three goals. Although the draw against Chelsea was disappointing, Jurgen Klopp will be happy to gain a point against the Champions at the start of a hectic schedule, which will see Liverpool play 9 more games before the turn of the year. In fact, if Liverpool can manage 10-12 total points against the other top five teams, another 15 against the remaining top-half teams, and 50-55 points against the bottom half teams, then they will be in a strong position to compete for top-four. However, to achieve this sort of a target, Liverpool will need to win their next five league games – against Stoke, Brighton, Everton, West Brom, and Bournemouth.
- Throughout history, Stoke City have played Liverpool 152 times across all competitions, winning 37 times, drawing 39 times, and losing 76 times. At home, the Potters have won 32, drawn 23, and lost 20.
- In 18 Premier League matches, Stoke City have won only four – all at home, while they have drawn five matches – only two at home, while losing the other nine games. Stoke have not beaten Liverpool in the Premier League since that famous 6-1 victory at home in May 2015.
- In the Premier League era, Stoke City have scored 19 goals in 18 games, while Liverpool have managed 27. In the last five league matches, the Potters have managed 9 goals, while the Reds have scored 12.
- Liverpool are the second-biggest menace for Stoke City’s manager Mark Hughes. Hughes has lost 13 matches to the Reds in the Premier League, which is his second-worst after 16 losses against Chelsea.
While Stoke have several players who can score and assist goals, Xherdan Shaqiri is in a rich vein of form. He has two goals and four assists from his last six PL appearances. In 1000 minutes in the Premier League this season, he has contributed eight goals – 3 scored and 5 assisted, amounting to a goal every 125 minutes. With an xG per 90 of 0.11 and xA per 90 of 0.24, Shaqiri has 35% chance of scoring or assisting a goal every 90 minutes. With a tiring, error-prone defense like Liverpool’s backline, Shaqiri can be more than a handful as not only has he got a good shot, but he can float the crosses for Crouch and Choupo-Moting to get to the end of.
Jurgen Klopp sprang a surprise when he rested Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane for the crucial game against Chelsea. It is possible that both the goal-scorers from last Wednesday’s game in Seville were a bit tired to start on Saturday. But, this Wednesday, both of them are likely to start. While Mohamed Salah deservedly gets the plaudits for his 10 goals in 13 matches in the league, on Wednesday Klopp might choose to drop the Egyptian to the bench. This would mean that Roberto Firmino, Liverpool’s top scorer in Europe this season will have to shoulder the goal scoring responsibilities. In all competitions, Firmino has scored eight and assisted four goals in 1307 minutes, amounting to a goal contribution every 108 minutes. In midweek European games, Firmino has scored 5 and assisted 2 in just 423 minutes, amounting to a goal contribution every 60 minutes or so. xG per 90 of 0.33 and xA per 90 of 0.30 suggest a 63% chance of a goal contribution every Premier League game as well. Stoke City will be wary of the rejuvenated Brazilian on Wednesday.
Jack Butland and Stephen Ireland stay sidelined with injuries for Stoke City. However, Jese and Peter Crouch will be available, should Mark Hughes want to rotate his attack from side that lost to Crystal Palace on Saturday. Similarly, Bruno Martins Indi might get a game if Hughes gives a break to Ryan Shawcross.
Jurgen Klopp has already said that he intends to rotate heavily to weather out the hectic winter schedule and he was true to his word against Chelsea. Rejuvenated attackers Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane should be back in the starting eleven to replace Sturridge and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Andy Robertson might get a game on the left-back, while Trent Alexander Arnold might be brought in for mid-week rotation on the right-back. Further, Liverpool might throw in more attack-minded midfielders in Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum against Stoke City. There are rumors of Joel Matip also being slightly injured, which means that the Reds might field Lovren and Klavan in central defense.
There was a time when Liverpool were really wary of a cold windy night at Stoke. However, this season, they do not have a lot to fear as Stoke are weak defensively, which works perfectly for Liverpool’s in-form attackers. While the Reds might find it hard to keep a clean sheet, it should be a fairly routine win for Klopp’s men on Wednesday.
Stoke City 1 – 2 Liverpool