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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Stoke City, 11.13.10

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Liverpool head to the Britannia in search of their second away win.

The string of away fixtures continues that Liverpool should expect to win but can't expect to win because they're going to lose matches people expect them to win and win matches people expect them to lose. So I suppose they'll win.

If Wigan away was tricky, the trip to the Britannia is a giant pain in the ass. They're only marginally higher in the table than the Latics (and marginally behind Liverpool), but Tony Pulis and Stoke are a dangerous prospect for Roy Hodgson's Liverpool. Even though I'd like to throttle Pulis with his baseball cap, he's got the Potters playing consistent football---they're rarely blown away, they can stick with anyone, and they have more than enough ways to threaten Liverpool. Yes, they're currently in 16th, but after starting the season with three straight losses, 13 points is an above-average return at this point.

Stoke have somehow managed to keep themselves remarkably fit as a squad---they're only missing Mamady Sidibe. They'll be boosted by the return of Ryan Shawcross in defense, and I'm guessing at one point or another they'll give Liverpool fits from the wide area. Whether it's a Rory Delap throw-in or a set piece, I'm sure that Stoke will have their chances. Kenwyne Jones will be the main threat up top, and he's supported by Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Etherington, Dean Whitehead, and Delap in midfield. Bonus points for the fact that Thomas Sorensen and the Stoke back line (typically Robert Huth, Danny Collins, Abdoulaye Faye, and Shawcross) have only kept one clean sheet all season---a 1-0 win at the Britannia over Blackburn.

As for Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

Do your best Roy Hodgson impression below---just cut out the whining and blaming.

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Carragher Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Gerrard Lucas Maxi
Kuyt
Torres

---If choosing the squad midweek was difficult, this one is nearly impossible. Nobody's rested and if they are, they're not fully fit. Glen Johnson's out still, as is Joe Cole. Daniel Agger's also out, and Raul Meireles could be out after coming off due to illness at the half against Wigan.

---Martin Kelly's done well in the past week, and is likely the better fullback, but 180 minutes in four days is probably too much for him to recover from. With Johnson not yet fit, Carragher at right back is likely, with Skrtel and Kyrgiakos partnering in the center.

---It's nigh-on impossible to exclude Christian Poulsen, but I'll continue to try. With Meireles a doubt, and the oft-injured Joe Cole just recently back to full training, the only other choice is Jay Spearing, who's done well in limited action, but is probably not in the mix. I think it's a big ask for Lucas here as well, though, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to see a Spearing/Poulsen partnership. But I guess we go with the same personnel as the past two matches, giving Hodgson a ready-made excuse for brainless tactical decisions.

---As much as the front five need rest, there's not many alternatives given the injury worries and Hodgson's apparent preferences of late. Milan Jovanovic is a willing runner and high on energy, but he can't seem to work his way through, and the decision to leave David Ngog on the bench for the entire match Wednesday was not encouraging. I don't want to see Kuyt, Torres, Maxi, and Gerrard for a full 90, but I can easily see Hodgson picking them again.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

Finishing upright sounds like a good place to start. Ignoring the sheer idiocy of the idea that two and a half days after Wigan will somehow be more restful than the two and a half days after Chelsea, it's a tall order for a similar eleven to play the type of football we've come to expect---that is, stretched by the opposition, sitting back and waiting to break on the counter, defending with the striker.

It's not likely that Liverpool change much tactically, or that they're going to have enough stamina to get on the front foot with much energy. But that doesn't mean they need to invite pressure. They can maintain possession and move forward with some sort of tact rather than waiting for an aimless 50-yarder from Carragher in the corner. I'm tired of the rope-a-dope, in case you haven't noticed.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

I think Stoke are a tougher ask than Wigan, and I'm supremely worried about this squad's level of fatigue. My heart says 2-1 Liverpool, but my head says 1-0 Stoke. On a Jim Halpert throw-in, of course.

Tomorrow continues the great run on US television for Liverpool, with Fox Soccer Channel giving it the sexy treatment in HD. It'll also be televised live on ESPN in the UK, so anyone with cable has a good shout at catching the match live. Matchday post and links for those who find the allure of internet streaming too exciting to pass up will run in the morning, as usual.

Enjoy your Friday, deviants, and try not to get arrested.