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Stoked About Stoke? Not Really

Fresh off the heart pounding, wonderful, performance on Sunday, the Reds will host Stoke City Wednesday at 3pm EST/8pm BST. Part of that last bit was sarcasm and I will give you a hint, it was not the time. To say that this season has had an ideal start would be, well, ideal. One would think that it should be. No one really picked up any knocks at the Confederations Cup, which saw Spain exit early thanks to the USA. Two big signings were made over the summer, albeit one was broken when the club bought him. Finally, what I think is the most important, this is the first time in about five seasons that we have not had to qualify to get into the Champions League.

Instead of having the dream beginning of picking up where we left off last season, we have been beaten by the stick of karma and have suffered injuries, a lackluster preseason, and a gaping hole in the midfield. I say karma did this because of Xabi Alonso. The way we tried so hard to offload him two seasons ago had to eventually come back to bite us in the ass. The sad thing is that when Rafa Benitez was trying to sell him, not many of us were arguing, we were just not sure that Gareth Barry would be any better. Of course, this is back when one of the best midfielders in the world, Steven Gerrard, was playing midfield and not half-assed striker.

I also did not really understand the strategy of working out the entire club and everyone in the gift shop who happened to buy a red shirt during the preseason. While we were passing the ball around to Phil, from the concession stand, other clubs were playing serious matches with their traditional starting XI, getting ready for the start of the season. That brings us to the present day with already one loss, halfway to tying our record from last season.

The question is now whether or not the team will be able to break down the 10 man defense employed by Stoke City. Tony Pulis tends to enjoy parking the entire squad in front of the goal and praying for luck on a set piece or throw in. Don't be surprised if we see a goalless draw. If it happens to rain on Wednesday, and I see that towel make another appearance to wipe off the ball, I might actually fly up and choke him with it.

I am going to make a crazy proposal and say that we go back to trying a 4-4-2, at least until Alberto Aquilani is fit. We desperately need Gerrard playing further back because, let's be honest, we do not have many midfielders to spare. Seriously, what would happen right now if Javier Mascherano picked up an injury? Pull Gerrard back with Mascherano and use one of the many forwards to play--well, forward. If Rafa is hell bent on making the 4-2-3-1 work, then at least stick Benayoun behind Torres where Gerrard would be.

If we learned anything at White Hart Lane, it should be that the current system is not going to work and needs to be adjusted somewhere. You can blame some of the last sub par performance on fitness and injuries, but we should not forget that this system did not work last season either when we were without Alonso due to injuries. Injuries are again going to be an obstacle as Daniel Agger is still suffering from back problems and is at least two weeks away from being fit and Martin Skrtel is a doubt. In fact, pretty much everyone, including Skrtel's agent, is saying that the Slovakia defender will not be ready. Still, do not be surprised if Rafa has the physio department slap a Hannibal Lecter style mask on him so that he can play.

My guess at the starting XI is that it will be much the same as we saw on Sunday with maybe Benayoun starting on the left instead of Babel. Out of the subs that were brought on during the previous match, he was the only one that really raised the question, why was he not out there to begin with? If anything this manager has shown, it is that he is stubborn when it comes to making changes. It took several seasons to drop the silly rotation policy and nearly half a season to realize that Robbie Keane was not going to work. If this is still not working by October, Aquilani should be ready to come into the fold and then we will have to wait and see how that works out. Hopefully, we will not be waiting for several months after his debut.

One final thought and I will release you from the longest post that I have written in sometime (I might be turning into Martin, but I haven't started quoting myself yet.) There was recently an article on Liverpool's official site about Steven Gerrard's "photo obsession." In it, he describes a room in his home where he keeps all of his football accolades and memorabilia. The current prized possession is a photograph that shows the current high point of his career, the 2005 team on the podium at Instanbul after having just won the UEFA Champions League, but that is not the photo he wants.

"I'm desperate to get that photo of me with my teammates holding the Premier League trophy. I don't want to finish my career and have to go into that room and not have that. It does play on my mind how many years I've left to win it. I've turned 29 now so I know time isn't on my side, but it's important I don't get obsessed by it.

It's great to have players in the current squad on long term deals. It's great that Aquilani is on a 5 year deal and I think he will do well sometime during that spell, but as Gerrard pointed out, time is not on his side. Time is not on anyone's side. Football is a very dynamic sport where injuries can take the best player in the world into an early retirement and where even in an ideal environment, a player is only at their best for a few years. Is this our year? Or, will we continue to be a club that is looking towards the future while being proud of our past? I hope something changes soon because the past is getting further and further away.

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