Ending their Premier League season with a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Stoke City wasn’t exactly what Liverpool had in mind. In what would be long serving skipper Steven Gerrard’s final match for the Reds, he’d be on hand to endure their worst defeat in over 50-years — a stark reminder that his time at Anfield hadn’t been all sunshine and roses.
With their mercurial midfielder now plying his trade in the United States with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will return to the scene of the crime when his side kick-off the new campaign exactly where they ended the last one. While he won’t be at a loss for words when it comes time to write his team-talk, he’ll do well to put out of his mind that the Potters were better than the Reds were bad; this was no simple case of his side failing to turn up, rather a well drilled side absolutely pummeling one that was lacking in both direction and confidence.
It’s a new season though and even if the memories aren’t magically whisked away by a clean fixture list, the ability to make amends is there — even if revenge isn’t the sole focus of this trip to Staffordshire.
The Reds will be without Joe Allen for at least a month while he recovers from a hamstring injury picked up in the pre-season win over Swindon Town, but boss Brendan Rodgers will be able to cope well without the Welshman. Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan are nearing fitness, but remain their only long-term absentees that the Northern Irishman, again, should be able to cope without as he looks to hand debuts to summer arrivals Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, young defender Joe Gomez and Southampton transplant Nathaniel Clyne.
The real question for Rodgers comes in the form of who he’ll partner with Martin Skrtel in the heart of the Liverpool defense. Early indications have him plumping for Dejan Lovren when Mamadou Sakho has shown not only throughout last season, but in the brief pre-season minutes the Frenchman was afforded, that he’s the man for the job. The Croatian has been lacking in both confidence and poise since his arrival from St. Mary’s last summer and while there’s no question that he should be utilized in some way this season, being thrown in against a team we conceded 6-goals to only 11-weeks ago may not be the ideal moment for tinkering.
Regardless of who the Reds boss selects, his counterpart in Mark Hughes can stake a pretty solid claim in coming off worse with news that his captain and defensive stalwart Ryan Shawcross will be out for the next two months after having surgery to correct a long-standing problem with his back. Bojan Krkic could play a part in his first competitive match in 6-months after participating in just over an hour in the 3-0 loss to FC Porto in the Potters last pre-season outing, but you can flip a coin on forward Marko Arnautovic and defender Marc Wilson who are struggling with thigh and ankle problems respectively.
Again, much like Rodgers, Hughes should be able to cope without with the summer additions of Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ouriachi from Barcelona swelling their ranks with a kind of quality you don’t normally see on display at the Britannia Stadium. Regardless, even putting last seasons shock result aside, Liverpool don’t have the best record in the Potteries and should they drop even a goal behind, heads could start to go down — and no one wants to consider what could happen next.
While Stoke will be keen to show that they’re going to be a side that’ll swing with the big boys this year, the Reds will do well to put any notions of vengeance or revenge out of their minds. We’ve got a long, hard road ahead of us and a opening two months that have thrown some challenging fixtures our way early in the season. We never did recover from our slow start during our last campaign and avoiding that at all costs is at the top of my wishlist. As much as putting our hosts to the sword would be nice, if we get away with three points and give Jordan Henderson a winning start to his maiden season as captain, that’ll be enough revenge for me.
Well, for now, anyway…