It was a little strange to have so much time between matches, and especially the ones that we're really counting. The FA Cup could prove to be an avenue for European qualification, but all eyes are on the Premier League, and it's been ten days now since the 2-0 win over Hull on New Year's Day. That one won't stand out in the memory for years to come, but it was a nice enough way to get 2014 going and will hopefully prove to be a launching point for further success in January and beyond.
The time for rest ends tomorrow, however, and it screeches to a halt with what's typically one of the ugliest fixtures on the calendar. Away to Stoke has proven a nightmare for Liverpool in recent years, with only two victories in the last 14 years, one of which came in the League Cup in 2011. Otherwise it's been all Stoke, and they've managed to mostly continue their strong home record under Mark Hughes, with just one loss in the Premier League this season. Everton stole a draw late in their last league outing (which came on the heels of receiving two straight thumpings at City and Spurs), and they squeezed past Leicester City 2-1 in the FA Cup last weekend.
Hughes has a handful of former Liverpool players upon whom he can call, though the most effective isn't exactly former quite yet. Oussama Assaidi's been their biggest threat but is ruled out due to terms of the loan agreement, and there's also Peter Crouch, Charlie Adam, and Jermaine Pennant in the squad, none of whom have made a consistent contribution this season. Asmir Begovic, Thomas Sorensen, and Robert Huth should all miss out through injury.
The absence of Begovic and Sorensen leaves Jack Butland in line to start, and Erik Pieters, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson, and Geoff Cameron have been the preferred back four in recent weeks. Adam has a chance to start in the midfield along with Steven N'Zonzi and Glenn Whelan, while Pennant could feature with Assaidi ruled out. Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters should provide support in attack, with one of Crouch or Kenwyne Jones likely to lead the line up top.
Johnson Skrtel Toure Cissokho
Sterling Suarez Coutinho
The injury list should start getting shorter and shorter; Steven Gerrard, Mamadou Sakho, Glen Johnson and Daniel Sturridge should all be available, leaving Daniel Agger, Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan, and Joe Allen as the only squad regulars that will be missing. Obligatory Sebastian Coates ACL rehabilitation note as well.
It'll be interesting to see what happens in defense, though I'm not particularly wild about the prospect of Sakho coming back so soon. Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure isn't a pairing we've seen too much of, but they should be serviceable and able to cope with whoever Hughes decides to pick up front. Glen Johnson should come back into the squad after Martin Kelly filled in during the FA Cup win over Oldham, and Aly Cissokho--who's much improved his last few times out--will likely get the start on the left.
Fewer questions in the midfield with Allen still sidelined, as Steven Gerrard, Lucas, and Jordan Henderson should combine. During the second half against Oldham we saw both Henderson and Gerrard push further forward, and while Stoke are a different prospect, I'd guess Rodgers will set them up similarly.
Same goes for the setup in attack, where Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez, and Philippe Coutinho will surely feature again. The return of Sturridge is tremendous, but even if he makes the squad I'd be awfully surprised if he's in the eleven. There's a tough decision for Rodgers to make in the coming weeks--likely Sterling out and Sturridge in--but I think Sturridge starting tomorrow is too big an ask.
Kickoff is set for 4:10PM GMT/11:10AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 airing the match live in England and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.