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    Liverpool vs Stoke City Match Preview


    Liverpool will be hoping to keep their excellent run of form going on Sunday when they entertain Stoke City for the fourth time this season in a rerun of January's League Cup semi-final. Even though The Potters recorded their first win at Anfield since 1959 on that occasion, it was the home side who won the subsequent penalty shoot-out to book their place at Wembley after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate.

    Liverpool Overview

    The Reds have a habit of saving their best form for the cup competitions as Sunday's opponents found out to their cost but it is the bread and butter of the Premier League that will come under sharp focus this weekend. Both teams are embroiled in a battle for Europa League places, with eighth-place Stoke holding a two-point advantage over their opponents, in ninth, but Liverpool have played two matches fewer. Finishing in the top six or seven positions would provide the five-time European Cup winners with the insurance of European competition for next season if they fail with their first target of winning the Europa League, which would carry Champions League qualification.

    Jurgen Klopp's team have only lost one of their past 13 matches, over the course of 90 minutes, and they will take encouragement from Thursday night's well-disciplined and at times inspirational performance against Europa League favourites Borussia Dortmund. Divock Origi's 36th-minute strike gave The Reds a much-coveted away goal but it was the performance of the Liverpool back-four and the team's ability to nullify Dortmund's many attacking talents which was most pleasing about the display. While Liverpool are likely to have more possession than they enjoyed on Thursday, they will need to show similar qualities if they are to prevail against a Stoke side who are a far cry from the long-ball stereotype that was associated with the club under Tony Pulis.



    If Liverpool are to leapfrog their West Midland opponents, they will need to so without the services of Jordan Henderson, who has been been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee ligament injury, and the suspended Emre Can. While Joe Allen is likely to deputise in central midfield, the unavailability of two defensive-minded midfielders will give Klopp the opportunity to pick a more attacking line-up that could include a recall for Roberto Firmino. A partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, who played together in the recent defeat at Southampton, also remains an option although any striker who is omitted on Sunday could be given the nod for Thursday's pivotal return leg at Anfield against Dortmund.

    Stoke City Overview

    After finishing ninth for the past two seasons under Mark Hughes, Stoke are chasing their best Premier League finish since Tony Waddington's side finished fifth in 1975. The Potters failed to win any of their opening six league matches of the season but have since beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in addition to Sunday's opponents Liverpool for the first time in 57 years. The West Midlanders would have held a four-point lead over The Reds had they managed to maintain their 2-0 lead over Swansea City last Saturday, but two goals in the last quarter of the match for the visitors may have stalled some of Stoke's recent momentum.



    While Stoke remain well-organised, with defensive stalwarts such as Phil Bardsley, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron and Erik Peters in their ranks, it is their attacking philosophy under Mark Hughes that has won them an army of new admirers. The Potters have more Champions League winners in their squad than Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal combined with no fewer than five players who have lifted the famous trophy. Bojan Krkic, Ibrahim Afellay and Marc Muniesa all won the Champions League in their time at Barcelona, while Marko Arnautovic (Inter Milan) was victorious in 2010 and Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich) lifted the trophy in 2013.

    Since Mark Hughes succeeded Tony Pulis in 2013, there has been much more emphasis on playing the ball on the ground and through the middle of the park, as opposed to utilizing opportunities from wide areas and set-pieces. The signings of Bojan and Shaqiri have been instrumental to this change but if 'Plan A' fails, The Potters can still rely on Marko Arnautovic's aerial ability, in addition to that of the lesser-used Peter Crouch, as a useful 'Plan B'. The £18.3 million signing of Giannelli Imbula and £12 million paid for Shaqiri underlines the direction that Stoke are heading in and Hughes, who twice won the European Cup Winners' Cup as a player, will be hoping their arrivals will bring about European football for next season.



    Liverpool Key Players

    Liverpool will once again turn to their talisman Philippe Coutinho to provide the sort of inspiration that he provided against Stoke on the opening weekend of the season. The Brazilian decided a tight game with an excellent turn, run and long-range strike, which flew past Jack Butland from 25 yards, and the 23-year-old has been putting in performances of similar calibre ever since. Coutinho has scored seven league goals this campaign and assisted in a further five, equalling his best figures in a Liverpool shirt, and has also scored more goals (10) than in any of his other three seasons since joining the club.

    The role of James Milner will carry even more importance on Sunday in the absence of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in the Liverpool engine room. The 30-year-old, who will play alongside Joe Allen, has been in superb form this season and this was demonstrated on Thursday with his all-action performance in the Westfalenstadion. Milner has taken to Liverpool like a duck to water this campaign but in addition to his full-throttle performances, it has been his end product that has also caught the eye. The former Manchester City midfielder has scored seven goals so far in 2015-16 and it was his through-ball that assisted Divock Origi's invaluable away goal in Dortmund.



    Stoke City Key Players

    It would have been unthinkable for Stoke City to have had a player of Xherdan Shaqiri's ability in their ranks when they were first promoted to the Premier League back in 2008. The Swiss international is not only a fleet-footed winger with exceptional skill and dribbling ability but he also possesses the end product, whether it be scoring or crossing for the likes of Arnautovic. Liverpool will be well-advised to not allow the 24-year-old to cut inside on his trusty left foot, which has caused so much damage for opposition defences throughout his career.

    Marko Arnautovic has always had exceptional talent but it is the consistency he has shown throughout the season that has catapulted him to a level that many observers believed he had the potential to reach. The Austrian has outstanding technical ability, which has never been questioned, but it is his work rate and ability to link the play in attacking areas of the field that has been so impressive of late. Often compared to Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to his looks and physically imposing nature, the former Inter Milan forward has the skill to beat players on the ground, in the air and, like Zlatan, he has an eye for the spectacular.



    Head-To-Head

    All four of Stoke City's Premier League wins over Liverpool have come at the Britannia Stadium but they did win 1-0 at Anfield for the first time since 1959 in the 2016 Capital One Cup semi-final second leg. The Potters have also drawn three times in the league at Anfield, all of which were goalless draws, but they do have recent memories of hitting six against Sunday's opposition in a famous 6-1 destruction at the Britannia Stadium on the final day of last season. Since Stoke's return to the top flight in 2008, Liverpool have beaten Stoke on nine occasions but three of those victories occurred in Cup competitions.

    In the overall head-to-head, Liverpool have won 73 matches to Stoke's 36, with 40 matches drawn in a rivalry that was first contested 122 years ago. Stoke, like many sides, have a history of struggling against The Reds, failing to beat them between 1968 and 1975, 1975 and 1984, and more recently between 1984 and 2010. Liverpool won both of this season's meetings at the Britannia Stadium by a 1-0 scoreline but Stoke were 1-0 victors in the League Cup semi-final second leg at Anfield. It proved to be academic as Jurgen Klopp's team triumphed 6-5 in the subsequent penalty shoot-out to book their place at Wembley.



    Liverpool Team News

    Jordan Henderson has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after sustaining knee ligament damage against Borussia Dortmund and he joins Christian Benteke on the sidelines, who suffered the same injury a week earlier. Lucas Leiva and Kevin Stewart stepped up their comebacks to first-team action by playing 45 minutes in a test game against Burnley and could be in contention for the first-team. Emre Can serves a two-match ban for picking up 10 yellow cards this season, while Jordan Rossiter (hamstring), Joe Gomez and Danny Ings (both knee ligaments) all remain on the sidelines with long-term injuries.

    Stoke Team News

    Ryan Shawcross (back) and Xherdan Shaqiri (thigh) are expected to make their return to first-team action but Marko Arnautovic (knee) and Glenn Whelan (back) remain doubts. Geoff Cameron is a slight doubt after suffering from illness, while Glen Johnson is in line to make his first-team return against his former club after spending two months out with a knee injury. Marc Wilson, Jonathan Walters (both knee) and Jack Butland (ankle) remain on the sidelines with injuries.



    Score Prediction

    Liverpool 1 Stoke City 1
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool vs Stoke City Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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