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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Stoke City, 02.02.11

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Moving back to league play as Tony Pulis and Stoke City visit Anfield.

Even with all the excitement from yesterday, I'm guessing I'm not alone in welcoming the opportunity to get back into the swing of things on the pitch.

Before we get into it, I wanted to take a brief aside to thank everyone who was around for most of the day yesterday. It was completely bonkers, yes, but resoundingly the folks who made comments were both respectful and insightful. I'd be remiss if we didn't make mention of the high quality of thoughts that people shared yesterday, as it makes days like yesterday (and seasons like this one) much easier to bear. Thanks for all that, and let's hope things continue to progress for the club. No promise of the blog progressing, though, so deal with it.

Anyway, there's a healthy run of matches coming up in the next few weeks---Stoke tomorrow, away to Chelsea on Sunday, and then a run of four matches in a little over two weeks both domestically and in the Europa League. As we noted back at the beginning of January, these two months will do plenty to define the rest of Liverpool's campaign, so hopefully the events of yesterday did little to disrupt what seems like a team hitting their stride.

Stoke present an interesting challenge for Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish, and I'll defer to the manager for his somewhat generous description of the style that the Reds will be confronted with tomorrow:

"There is no definitive way of playing football. Stoke have as much right to turn round and say that Liverpool's principles or Manchester United's principles are wrong as the other way round. Stoke play to their strengths and we should all get on with it. Whether it's Arsenal's passing style or Stoke's long throw, you have to try to deal with it and combat it. And let's credit Tony Pulis with doing a good job at Stoke. It's common sense for a manager to select a style that suits his players."

Right, so that's a nice way of saying they'll arrive trying to play a physical match, rely on set-pieces, try to render no more than five of Liverpool's front six incapable of walking, and will no doubt come with a vast assortment of beach towels and Stickum for Jim Halpert and Don Draper's love-child, Rory Delap.

But like Dalglish says, it's a been relatively effective collective effort for Pulis and company---after a torrid November they've dropped off a bit but still managed a 5-2-4 record since December in all competitions, and they've spread the goalscoring wealth across Matthew Etherington, Kenwyne Jones, Robert Huth, and Jonathan Walters. Captain Ryan Shawcross misses tomorrow as part of a two-match ban incurred at Fulham, and Danny Higginbotham is out with a hamstring injury.

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?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Kelly Carragher Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas Gerrard
Kuyt Ngog Maxi

---There's rumors that Jamie Carragher will be in the squad for tomorrow, and he's no longer listed on the club's official injury list, so I suppose his stint here can come to an end. Unfortunately Jay Spearing has found his way back to the treatment table with a foot fracture, and Lucas has been continuing treatment for a thigh strain prior to the Fulham match. Andy Carroll joins the ranks of the injured, as he's still undergoing rehab for a thigh injury as well.

---The massively optimistic BBC has Luis Suarez "expected to make his debut" despite the fact that he's in Holland currently and hasn't had any time to really prepare with the squad. So I say not so much---maybe he makes the bench, but even that might be a stretch. Prepping him for Sunday seems like the most likely scenario; maybe he gets a late run out tomorrow at best.

---I don't see any other options up front other than David Ngog, who's likely been pining for some match time since Kenny Dalglish arrived. Tomorrow seems like the perfect opportunity for him to assert himself as still having a place in the club's plans. With Dalglish's preference for a 4-3-3, he'll likely have support through Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez.

---A midfield three of Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, and Lucas continues to have a tremendous upside, and from here on out it's a matter of all three staying fit and finding cohesion. The aforementioned injury to Lucas might keep him out, which would likely mean another start for Christian Poulsen in a more withdrawn role in defensive midfield.

---Like I said above, the return of Jamie Carragher was always going to be met with a start, and if that comes tomorrow then he'll be on the pitch from minute one. I get that most have been counting down the days until his return, particularly with Martin Skrtel's struggles. But it's not as though Carra had been supremely reliable prior to injury, and Daniel Agger is still head and shoulders above the rest of the central defensive candidates.

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

Business as usual under Kenny Dalglish, I'd say. The tremors from yesterday are going to be felt for awhile, but it's critical that the manager and the squad can maintain the progress they've made in the past few weeks. We're going to hear plenty of narratives introduced in the near future---the squad need to prove their worth in the absence of their former striker, the new additions need to live up to their price tag, the club need to prove that they can return to the upper echelons of English football. Pffffft. Keep working, keep playing football, and keep turning in the performances that have earned them two league victories on the trot.

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

Despite my flat rejection of the storylines, there's no doubt that tomorrow will be an emotional day at Anfield, and I think it carries Liverpool to a 2-0 win.

It doesn't look like this one's televised live in the UK, but US viewers can find it on Fox Soccer Channel. Normal matchday thread will go up mid-morning with links for streams and any other news of the day, so look out for that if you don't have TV service. Incidentally, if there's a contingent of viewers from other countries that fill me in on how they watch televised matches, I'll be glad to include that in the matchday thread on the off chance that one of your countrymen or -women stop by for the first time. I'm looking at you, Australians.

Hope you all enjoy your Tuesday, and let's look forward to things getting back up and running.