The combination of Liverpool's 'terrifying' attacking threat and Stoke City's own prowess going forward means Wednesday's clash is likely to be a high-scoring affair.
That's the opinion of Ben Rowley of The Bear Pit TV, who has offered us a comprehensive lowdown on the latest goings-on at the Bet365 Stadium ahead of this evening's game.
So, what's the mood like among Stoke fans? How is Mark Hughes likely to line his team up? And who do the Potters consider to be Liverpool's dangerman?
Read on to find out...
How are the fans feeling after the disappointment of conceding an injury-time goal to lose at Crystal Palace on Saturday?
The thin ice of patience cracked for many Stoke supporters as that goal went in. The Potters have been in terrible form with only six wins in the last 30 Premier League games and this loss against a bottom-of-the-table side has led to questions being asked of the Stoke hierarchy. Fans don’t seem to be questioning the team's effort, thankfully, rather a lack of attention to detail from the players and a lack of tactical nuance from the coaching staff. Usually, losing against the bottom-placed team would spark panic amongst fans but most have seen something like this coming.
The word ‘ambition’ has been the theme of discussion between Potters fans. When Mark Hughes arrived, he vowed for a push for European football and consistent top-half finishes; now some Stoke fans are worrying that the club are even going to stay in the league and it’s hard to say you can blame them with the way things are going. In direct answer to the question, ‘weary’ would be a good word to reflect the feeling of Stoke fans. For some, they’re at the point of no return when it comes to their opinions for the future of this football club.
Hughes vented his frustration with your defence after the Palace game. Has that been a consistent problem for you this season?
It’s a crisis, rather than a problem. On average, we’re letting in two goals per game and we don’t look anything like being able to score three in a game. You can see why wins for Stoke have been hard to come by. On the face of it, we have a solid defence with Jack Butland or Lee Grant in goal and a hearty selection of on-loan starlet Kurt Zouma, captain Ryan Shawcross, Kevin Wimmer and one of the signings of last season Bruno Martins Indi to construct a back three out of. Despite this, it’s our wing-backs that can let us down as Mame Diouf is often not defensively capable enough and Pieters is often not offensively capable enough for this system to function properly.
We have been known to defend well this season, particularly at home against Arsenal and Manchester United early in the campaign, so Liverpool might want to be wary of that. Yet, the four goals we conceded against Chelsea, the seven against Manchester City and the other 15 goals we’ve conceded this season prove that we’re certainly vulnerable. The January transfer window may provide an opportunity to inject the defence with the capabilities that it needs. For now, though, us Stoke fans will just have to cross our fingers that the opposition’s attack has a nightmare.
Xherdan Shaqiri scored a brilliant goal at Selhurst Park, though. Is it fair to say he’s your main threat?
By far and away. Being involved in half of Stoke’s Premier League goals this season (three goals, five assists) epitomises the fact that he’s been our talismanic catalyst.
When he first signed, it took a while for the former Bayern Munich and Inter winger to settle into life in England, mainly due to persistent calf injuries. However, since the departure of Marko Arnautovic, he’s been asked by the club this season to step up and be the main man and boy, oh boy, has be done just that - and then some.
He’s not the typical right-winger you’d come to expect. He’s usually either sitting deep playing sensational passes or cutting in from the flanks and having a pop at goal with his wand of a left foot. Although, he is renowned for those flip-flaps in tight spaces that have broken the ankles of a fair few full-backs; so he’s perfectly capable anywhere, which justifies the free role he has in our side. We’re just happy to have him in our ranks given our current situation. He’s our jack-of-all-trades and he seems to be our only outlet at all right now. It’s him you’ll need to stop.
How big a loss have Butland and Geoff Cameron been in these last few weeks? Could they be back for this game, or has it come too soon for them?
Unfortunately, neither will be available for the game on Wednesday. Butland is, in my opinion, the best English goalkeeper in the game today and there’s plenty of aspects of his game that we’re missing. His leadership and confidence have been known to resonate with the outfield players and noticeably sharpen up our defences in the past. Obviously, his spectacular technical abilities have single-handedly (or sometimes double-handedly) kept us in matches too. Having said that, Jack has been involved in our current defensive crisis as well, to be fair.
Cameron brings his versatility and experience into whichever role Stoke need him to be in. Whenever someone in a defensive or midfield role is injured, suspended or out of form, Geoff’s often there to plug the gap. To not have him at this point in time is an inconvenience, more than anything else. It’s just lucky that, touch-wood, we don’t have too many injuries. We’ll be glad to see him back eventually, though, for when the inevitable plague of injuries does hit us.
How are Stoke likely to line up?
Even though a change in set-up is long overdue, Stoke will almost definitely utilise the three-at-the-back system that famously won Chelsea the league last year. Grant will probably have Zouma, Shawcross and Wimmer in front of him. Diouf has transitioned from a striker to a right wing-back for us, with Pieters on the other side. The engine room will have Joe Allen and Darren Flecther in it and the recent attacking force has been a trident of Shaqiri, Ramadan Sobhi and Maxim Choupo-Moting. I don’t expect much to change from the last couple of games, unless he gambles by throwing in some of the youth players – such as Tom Edwards, Josh Tymon or Julien Ngoy – in.
3-4-3: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Ramadan.
What have you made of Liverpool so far this season?
You’re terrifying. With only the Manchester clubs outscoring you in the Premier League this year, it would be fair to predict that your strike force is going to have a field day against our confidence-bereft defence. Having said that, the Liverpool backline doesn’t appear to be in ship-shape either and Stoke are in the top 10 when you consider goals scored. There’s potential here for a high-scoring game and it’s a really exciting prospect. Liverpool’s pedigree is there for all to see but it’s only going to take a few missed opportunities for one of the two teams to come away with a victory here. It’s really going to be a case of how the two teams perform on the day; although it’s most likely going to swing your way should you bring your A-game.
Who do you consider to be our dangerman?
I’m trying to look for a hipster-style answer here but I’d be naive not to say Mohamed Salah. A record-breaking start for Liverpool has sent him top of the scoring charts and he’s the jewel of my Fantasy Premier League team. His pace is ridiculous and will definitely give Pieters second thoughts about breaking forwards. Some of the goals he’s scored have been of excellent quality too, and Grant is going to have to be on his best form if he wants to keep him out. His compatriot Ramadan Sobhi may well be playing on the same side of the field so the younger of the two Egyptians may have to inside knowledge to know how to get inside Salah’s head. To be honest though, I think it’s going to be a case of how we can limit Salah’s inevitable impact, rather than stop it.
Finally, your score prediction?
Honestly, who knows? The bookies will always side with Liverpool but all I can promise is goals, goals, goals. Stoke have a habit of conceding four goals against the more successful teams, as I’m sure Liverpool fans are aware after recent matches between the two sides. Having said that, Stoke did beat Liverpool 6-1 a couple of years ago.
My head says it’ll be a 4-2 Liverpool victory but my heart says a 3-3 draw. Either way, I just want to be entertained. It’s been a hard period for Stoke fans to sit and witness over the last couple of years and a fighting display from Stoke is all we ask. Bring it on!