The fourth round of the Carling Cup gets underway, and for Liverpool it means a return to the Britannia, the site of their first league loss of the season. Stoke's body of work in the competition is neither lengthy nor impressive, but they got past Spurs during the last round in a match that only took nine hours, and they'll host a Liverpool side that's already won twice on the road in the competition.
As Noel mentioned yesterday, there's enough action over the past few weeks to at least keep us looking forward, with the club set to play their fourth and fifth matches of the past two weeks over the coming days. Unfortunately this stretch hasn't been as successful as we'd have hoped, with missed chances dominating the collective consciousness after disappointing home draws with United and Norwich.
And if there's any team to heap on the misery, it's Tony Pulis' Stoke City, who make their living by frustrating anyone and everyone. The last meeting between the sides saw Stoke come away with three points in one of the uglier matches in recent memory, and it signaled the end of a relatively bright start for Liverpool and the start of a period of futility that's ongoing. The hosts created only three chances to the Reds' 24, but Jonathan Walters' first-half penalty was enough for the victory.
Stoke are an absolute bear of a task when they're at home---in league they've drawn Chelsea and United and defeated Liverpool and Fulham, and in the Europa League they've only conceded twice and have a 100% record at the Britannia. They made it to this point with the aforementioned 0-0 (7-6) victory over a second-string Spurs side, and with their next league match not coming until Monday, Pulis has the option to call on a fairly strong squad.
The match against Tottenham saw starts for seven of those involved in the victory over Liverpool, and two more made substitute appearances. Stoke might be without Jermaine Pennant, though, as he's recovering from a hamstring injury, and Jonathan Woodgate is also a question after suffering a calf injury that's caused him to miss three straight matches. Thomas Sorensen's seen most of the action in goal during domestic and European cup competition, with Asmir Begovic starting every league match, but that's the only significant change from Pulis' normal eleven.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Coates Agger Aurelio
Maxi Henderson Downing
---There's no new injury concerns, or at least there's none that have been publicized. Jack Robinson and Doni were the only two worries ahead of the Norwich match, but no news about how their recoveries are progressing.
---Kenny Dalglish has picked strong squads in each of the club's two victories so far, and he's underlined the importance of doing the same tomorrow. And given who featured at the back against Norwich, he can make wholesale changes and still have an impressive back line. I think Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger are the most likely, and Fabio Aurelio's probably in contention after coming away from the Rangers friendly unscathed. It's either Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, or Sebastian Coates left to partner Agger, and while it's a testy environment, I'm hoping to see Coates, as he hasn't made an appearance since the win at Brighton last month.
---It's about time for Charlie Adam to make way in midfield, which would mean a start for Jay Spearing alongside Lucas deeper in central midfield. Spearing's only seen limited action so far this season, but he's been mostly effective and, in a rapid departure from Lucas' regular partner, actually has a sense of responsibility on the defensive side of things. Further forward there's got to be spots for Maxi and Jordan Henderson; the former's alienation from the first team has been one of the more frustrating elements of this season, and the latter's impressed in substitute appearances over the past few weeks. The remaining spot is more of a grab bag, so I'm guessing Stewart Downing makes another start to provide service up front despite playing 80 minutes on Saturday.
---There continues to be a forced panic about Andy Carroll's absence from the starting eleven over the past few weeks, and while a start in the League Cup isn't going to clear that up entirely, it'd be shocking if he was omitted from tomorrow's lineup. We said it before the league encounter, but his presence is a good fit for the opposition, and with Luis Suarez running himself into the ground in search of a goal on Saturday, the time seems right for Carroll to get another extended look.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Right now we're talking rinse and repeat for this section---finishing, finishing, finishing. We can marvel at the creativity of an individual or the sheer number of chances the squad manages, but as most of you have touched on in the earlier thread, there's little consolation to be taken in the fact that there were lots of chances and wow that's pretty neat. Finding a winner, whether it's 4-3 or 1-0, is paramount, particularly facing squads like Stoke. Having the talent makes it all the more frustrating, and finding a way through the current dry(ish) spell tomorrow would create some positivity heading into Saturday's trip to the West Midlands.
Tomorrow's match is going to be tough to catch wherever you're at, with no listings stateside or in the UK. FoxSoccer.tv has it as one of their offerings, but that's a pay-only service that by most reports is terrifically unreliable. That means streams are going to be the way forward for most of us, so check the matchday thread for the usual links. We'll have the teamsheets to go along with links around an hour before kickoff, and feel free to chime in if you know of a way to watch that we don't have posted.
Have a good one, and we'll see you back here tomorrow.