It's turned out to be a busy final week of preseason on and off the pitch for Liverpool, with two friendlies in four days and a host of squad news to be sorted through. Chuck is now on board and recapping the goings-on both at Liverpool and around the league to keep us all in the know, though it'd have been hard to avoid the major stories from this week--Luis Suarez is gone and then not gone and not going anywhere, Brendan Rodgers looks to be coming of age, and Team Agger wins the day. Suddenly things seem okay.
If they manage to stay that way through the month of August, Liverpool will have added another player or two, further exiled any dead weight or those on bloated wages, and started the Premier League season more successfully than they did last year. The fixture list is a bit more kind this time around with Stoke City, Aston Villa, and, as we learned yesterday, Notts County in the League Cup to round out the month. Not too busy, but crucial for setting the tone for a challenging September.
Celtic will provide a nice jostle to a higher level of competition, as they're already involved in Scottish Premier League and Champions League football. They've already won two qualifying ties in Europe over Cliftonville and Elfsborg, and their final hurdle before the group stages will be Kazakh side Shakther Kargandy, whom they'll take on in the playoffs starting on August 28. They started the league season with a 2-1 home win over Ross County last Saturday, and will travel to Aberdeen next weekend as they wrap up the first half of a packed month of August.
It's hard to say how exactly Neil Lennon will line his side up; the second leg draw at Elfsborg just wrapped up on Wednesday evening in Sweden, and with a starting eleven that was seemingly close to full strength I'd guess tomorrow we see a mixture of reserves and a handful of regular starters, especially with another week between their trip to Aberdeen.
There don't appear to be any new fitness concerns in the squad, and with Rodgers giving two separate elevens (with the exception of Andre Wisdom, who played a full ninety) a 45-minute cameo in Norway, all should be rested and ready. Glen Johnson will make the trip, but Agger and Martin Skrtel are again left out. We know that Daniel Sturridge traveled with the squad, as did Raheem Sterling, whose off-pitch issues rightfully put his place in the squad in doubt. Luis Suarez did not make the trip.
Rodgers can approach this in much the same way he did the Valerenga friendly; a split squad would preserve fitness levels and still get everyone a run-out, but something close to a full match for next Saturday's preferred eleven would also make plenty of sense. If we're talking the squad for Stoke--and assuming full fitness for Agger and Johnson--I think it's this:
Johnson Toure Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas Allen
Sterling Aspas Coutinho
Bench: Jones, Wisdom, Skrtel, Henderson, Ibe, Alberto, Sturridge
Whether or not we get that tomorrow is unclear, though you'd think that nearly everyone will play a part somewhere along the way. Given Celtic's relative match preparedness this will be the toughest test of the preseason, and one that can afford the Liverpool squad with much more of a challenge than their previous fixtures. That Celtic had a Champions League tie earlier in the week might drain some of their resources, but the occasion and expected atmosphere will surely provide a boost.
I'm happy with whatever tomorrow so long as everyone comes out in one piece; it would be nice to see something resembling the Stoke squad log serious minutes, along with a twenty-odd minute appearance for Daniel Sturridge. In terms of numbers and physicality it's not the most imposing side, but as we've seen, one that's more than capable of producing quality and cutting edge in the final third.
Kickoff is later than we've been used to, with the start time set for 5:00PM BST/12:00PM EST. The match will be aired live on BT Sport in the UK, BeIN Sport in the US, and online at LFCTV. We'll have the team sheets posted an hour before kickoff as part of the matchday thread, which will run as usual in the morning hours. Hope you'll all be around to join us for the end to a largely successful preseason, and as we kick on into the week ahead of the start to the Premier League season.