Maybe this is the one. The one that finally sees the pieces fall into place in defense, midfield, and attack, the one that sees confidence rush back into a side that played with so much of it last season, the one that sees the manager make the changes that seem so obvious, and the one that sets the table for much-needed improvements as 2014 comes to a close.
Those improvements will have to come against an opposition that's given Liverpool trouble in recent years--last year aside, Stoke City have been one of the more challenging sides for Liverpool to face, and while they've had struggles of their own this season, we can likely expect things to be close tomorrow. Mark Hughes' squad sit one point ahead of Liverpool in the table and have been up and down for most of the past two months, with wins over the likes of Spurs and Swansea only to lose to Sunderland and Burnley.
Hughes could be missing a number of regulars due to illness and injury, as yesterday brought news that Geoff Cameron, Asmir Begovic, and Phil Bardsley left training due to unspecified sickness, while Victor Moses and Robert Huth are hurt and the status of Marc Wilson and Eric Pieters is questionable. Oussama Assaidi will be ruled out due to the terms of his loan agreement.
That could mean a very different side from the one that lost to Burnley last weekend; Begovic, Bardsley, Cameron, and Moses all started on Saturday, with Marc Muniesa and Ryan Shawcross rounding out the defense and Steven Sidwell, Jonathan Walters, and Steven Nzonzi in the midfield. Bojan and Mame Biram Diouf started up front, with Peter Crouch, Charlie Adam, and Marko Arnautovic making appearances off the bench.
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Markovic Borini Lallana
The injury situation could be slightly better than it was ahead of the Ludogorets fixture--Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli, Suso, and Jon Flanagan are still ruled out, but Mamadou Sakho could make a return to the squad along with Jose Enrique. No word yet on Raheem Sterling's stomach bug, but worth remembering that's on 180-plus minutes in the week already along with Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Rickie Lambert, and Javier Manquillo.
Hopefully Brendan Rodgers rests a handful of those named; at the back it looks as though Dejan Lovren will come back into the eleven after Kolo Toure failed to convince, while Alberto Moreno has to get the start after two consecutive poor performances from Johnson. Skrtel and Manquillo likely retain their starting spots, and Simon Mignolet should be in goal again barring a surprise start for Brad Jones.
In the midfield there should be new faces as well, with each of Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana on a week's rest. All three could feature here, though it's equally possible Rodgers decides to go with Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, and Joe Allen yet again. After two full matches in the last six days, though, it's impossible to see Gerrard starting here, especially with fresh legs for two of the players who are better suited for the new role Rodgers has decided is Gerrard's best.
If Balotelli is fit here he starts, especially given the fact that Rickie Lambert hasn't had any rest all week. Fabio Borini could get the nod along with Lazar Markovic, who was left out of the squad completely midweek. Probably naive to expect so many changes, but with so many matches on the immediate horizon, Rodgers is going to have to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to trusting his squad.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST on Saturday, with NBC Sports Extra Time/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday a few hours ahead of the match tomorrow, with team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us, and if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.