Stoke City Preview: Decisions to Make as Potters Return to Anfield

After a thrilling 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday night, Liverpool are straight back at it with Stoke City visiting Anfield on Sunday with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp looking to improve on the paltry three home wins he’s managed since taking charge of the Merseyside giants back in October.

While echoes of the 6-1 spanking the Potters handed out to their far more esteemed opponents at the end of last season can still be heard bouncing around the Britannia, Mark Hughes side have a very different task at hand with his side last winning a league match at Anfield back in 1959. They did, however, run out 1-0 winners in the League Cup semi-final back in January only to come up short in a penalty shoot-out that saw Liverpool advance to the finals.

The Welshman will be boosted by the fact that the Reds tend to suffer a rather hefty hangover after European exertions as well as the return of captain Ryan Shawcross, who has been sidelined for a long length with a back problem, as well as Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri to his side.

Now, whether or not either will be chucked in to the starting eleven on Sunday remains to be seen, but as Stoke push for a spot in Europe next season, they’ll be well motivated to leave Merseyside with all three-points. Liverpool, on the other hand, could be turning their attentions away from domestic matters to focus on securing their own place in Europe’s elite club competition by way of winning the Europa League — something that would obviously give the visitors a leg-up.

Klopp will be without the services of club captain Jordan Henderson after being ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee problem he picked up midway through the meeting with BvB earlier in the week and another familiar face will be missing from the middle of the park as Emre Can sits this one out through suspension. That will almost certainly mean that Joe Allen, who was excellent when called upon on Thursday, will be drafted in and he could end up partnering up with either James Milner or Lucas as the Reds boss looks to solve his midfield conundrum.

Whether or not the German sticks or twists with Divock Origi is another puzzle on the table with the Belgian bagging a splendid goal on Thursday as Daniel Sturridge, who was expected to be named in the starting eleven, looked on from the bench. The 20-year old has seemingly found his feet under Klopp and could very well keep his place up top with the trip of Philippe Coutinho, who has a knack of scoring against the Potters, Roberto Firmino, who returned from a hamstring problem in Germany, and Adam Lallana, who looked dangerous against Dortmund, in support.

Although they snatched a valuable away goal on Thursday, Liverpool are almost certainly going to have to score when the Bundesliga side visit on Thursday if they want to secure a spot in the semi-finals of the Europa League, but Stoke won’t give them too many opportunities to get in a scoring groove. Only a single goal separated these sides during their three encounters this season and though the Reds created a multitude of chances against BvB, they were only able to capitalize once.

Much of that credit needs to go to Dortmund ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller with the German producing a string of outstanding saves to keep the scoreline respectable. It should also be noted that 35-year old is actually second choice at the Westfalenstadion and with Stoke ‘keeper Jack Butland out for the season the Reds will come up against another reserve shot-stopper with his deputy Jakob Haugaard expected to be between the sticks on Sunday — though after taking in to account his performance in the 2-2 draw with Swansea City last time out, that prospect seems far less ominous.

Steven McMillan

Can’t find up from down or tell black from white, but doesn't care cause it’s all Red to him. When he's not pissing and moaning about all things Liverpool, he’s chatting nonsense with his multiple personalities — or his “entourage” as he likes to call them.

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