As evidenced by the fact that nobody's talking about the actual football, we're getting down to crunch time in the preseason. Which is basically just a different way of saying that this is about the point when things start to get particularly silly in the transfer window; nothing practically gets too nuts, but the talk around the bigger names--which Liverpool thankfully have!--ramps up, and there's legal action and transfer requests and skin melting from the heat and self-loathing.
Sprinkling in a nice little run-out isn't quite the tonic we need, but we'll take what we can get as Liverpool head to Norway to face Valerenga. The two sides met in early August of 2011 as well, and there's a very good chance that exactly zero of the starters from that match will start tomorrow. Jordan Henderson's the most likely, but with a few names left behind and a healthy amount not even at the club anymore, we're left with yet another reminder of just how much turnover this squad has seen in such a short period of time.
Valerenga are just past the halfway mark of the Tippeligaen season, firmly midtable on 25 points yet only six back from third-place Aalesund. Given the timing it's not likely that we'll see their first-teamers for too long; they drew at Tromsø on Sunday and host IK Start this weekend, so manager Kjetil Rek
tdal will probably opt to give his regulars a run-out before drafting in squad players to round out his team.
Kelly Toure Wisdom Enrique
Gerrard Lucas Allen
Sterling Aspas Coutinho
There's a slew of names left behind, including a couple that will cause plenty of speculation about the true reasons for their absences. Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, and Luis Suarez have all been left at home along with Daniel Sturridge; Agger's knee injury at the end of the Olympiakos match appears to be the culprit there, while the others have picked up unspecified knocks with Suarez apparently undergoing a scan later today. Both he and Skrtel have been linked with moves away, though, and this is more than enough to send the cynicism into overdrive. In the case of Suarez there's confirmation that an injury did occur, but let's not allow that to get in the way.
That leaves a squad without many surprises in it, though the back line will look very different from what we've come to expect at this point in preseason. Andre Wisdom appears to be set to partner Kolo Toure in central defense, while Martin Kelly should start if fit. If he's not available the spot in the eleven will fall to Jon Flanagan, with Jose Enrique again starting at left-back.
I'm hopeful that Rodgers again goes with a true three-man midfield, with Lucas deepest and two of Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson as the more advanced pairing. Allen and Gerrard were very good in the captain's testimonial, as was Henderson, and it looks as though it's between Allen and Henderson to compete for the third spot. Lucas is nailed-on, as is Gerrard, so hopefully Allen and Henderson can push one another along as they each look to cement a spot in the starting eleven.
Up front we'll hopefully be treated to more Iago Aspas goodness, and he's likely to be accompanied by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho. That's a fairly lightweight forward line, and one that saw Coutinho's influence fade against Olympiakos, but one that has enough quality and fluidity to cause some problems. If Daniel Sturridge isn't ready for Stoke--and I'm guessing he won't be, at least as a starter--I think this is what we get, with Fabio Borini and, if the shape changes, Luis Alberto off the bench.
Kickoff is set for 6:00PM BST/1:00PM EST, and it'll be live online through LFCTV and on delay in the US at 5:00PM EST on BeIN Sport. Please feel free to drop a note if it's airing somewhere else that isn't listed, as it's been slightly more challenging to track down the friendlies of late. We'll have the usual coverage, with the matchday thread up early tomorrow and team sheets posted about an hour or so ahead of kickoff. Hope you'll be around, and that we're able to enjoy another step forward for Liverpool as the days of summer quickly wind down.