By Christopher Boulay
Liverpool is coming off of a significant win against Manchester City in the semi-final of the League Cup, and has to face Stoke City in the league with only two days of rest in between. The squad may be getting used to such a hectic schedule, having played three matches over an eight-day span to start 2012.
The club hasn’t played a league match since January 3, when it lost 3-0 to Manchester City. However, the club will need to rebound, in order to keep pace with Arsenal and Chelsea. Currently, the Reds are two points behind Arsenal for fifth place, and three points behind Chelsea. The Blues face Sunderland on Saturday, while the Gunners will take on Swansea City on Sunday.
Steven Gerrard is fresh off of a goal in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, as well as a contract extension, and the club may need a continued boost from its captain. Luis Suarez’s ban still has five matches left, so the squad’s punch will have to run through Gerrard, who is starting to get back to regular match fitness – something that hasn’t been achieved yet this year.
A full strength back four should be available for the match, as Jose Enrique is expected back in the squad. However, Jay Spearing is expected to miss the match due to a hamstring issue which forced him out of the first half of the League Cup match. Charlie Adam is expected to take Spearing’s place, as he did in that match. In addition, it will be interesting to see if Maxi Rodriguez starts, as he was not included in the previous squad. Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt could battle for a position on the other wing.
The middle of the pitch will be challenged by Stoke’s grinding play, which can either wear down opponents, or lull them asleep, completely. Tony Pulis’ men may be without Andy Wilkinson, Ryan Shotton, Marc Wilson and Jonathan Woodgate. Wilkinson may be the most likely addition to the squad, while the rest could be decided on last moment. Regardless, their scoring touch can be dangerous, with Peter Crouch and Republic of Ireland forward Jonathan Walters. Not to mention Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome, who both have been useful off of the bench. Stoke may be well-rested, as the club hasn’t played a match since January 7 against Gillingham in the FA Cup, and has not featured in a Premier League fixture since a 2-1 win over Blackburn on January 2.
However, the biggest question of the match will be how Liverpool can deal with it’s lack of scoring touch. Craig Bellamy has been a staple in the lineup since Suarez’s ban, and questions of his knees not being able to handle the load have been quieted, so far. Andy Carroll will likely get the start with him, as the only other first team striker at the moment is Kuyt. Carroll has looked improved in recent matches, but other than the goal against Oldham, the former Newcastle forward has struggled to find the net.
Despite manager Kenny Dalglish completely shutting the door on any transfer talk this window, the pressure is building, and supporters are starting to demand answers. Whether it is fair or not to write off such a young player with the potential that Carroll possesses is up to debate, but there is no denying fans are looking for goals. If he can get into the mix early and do what he does best – be a physical and daunting presence in the box – Carroll could do significant damage to Stoke this match.
Manchester City v Liverpool
When: Saturday, January 14, 1500 GMT / 1000 EST
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
EPL: Liverpool 6th (34 points), Stoke City 8th (29 points)
Probable Liverpool Starting XI:
DEF: Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique
MID: Kuyt, Gerrard, Adam, Maxi
FW: Bellamy, Carroll
Subs from: Doni, Kelly, Coates, Carragher, Flanagan, Aurelio, Henderson, Spearing, Shelvey, Downing
Probable Stoke City Starting XI:
DEF: Huth, Shawcross, Shotton, Woodgate
MID: Whelan, Delap, Whitehead, Etherington
FW: Walters, Crouch
Subs from: Begovic, Upson, Diao Pennant, Wilson, Wilkinson, Jones, Jerome
Interact: What’s your final score prediction? What’s your predicted starting eleven? Comment below.