Just like that, only one more match until the true pain and anguish starts. Yes, Steven Gerrard's Liverpool career is over--at least for the time being--after tomorrow's trip to Stoke, but the true pain will be in the fact that there will be nothing left to distract from full-on rumor mongering and panic. They've proved a poor distraction anyway, but the lack of anything to watch until the preseason starts means that all the off-pitch drama will be pushed into overdrive for the next few months.
Which almost makes the prospect of facing Stoke tolerable; Mark Hughes' side have once again found their way to mid-table, achieving a Premier League record points total and reasserting their place as top-flight regulars. As usual, they've managed a few flashy results while grinding out others, though in recent weeks they've struggled a bit, losing four times since mid-March.
They played out a relatively dull 0-0 draw at Burnley last time out, when Hughes went with Jack Butland in goal, Marc Muniesa, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron, and Erik Pieters at the back, Glenn Whelan, Steven N'Zonzi, and Charlie Adam in midfield, and Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters in support of Mame Diouf up top. Peter Crouch, Peter Odewingie, and
Peter Steve Sidwell featured off the bench and could play a part here, while Victor Moses and Bojan are ruled out through injury. Stephen Ireland is a late decision due to fitness.
Can Skrtel Sakho Moreno
Lallana Coutinho Ibe
Jon Flanagan and Daniel Sturridge are ruled out into next season, and yesterday Brendan Rogers indicated that they'll be without Mario Balotelli for what's increasingly looking like his last match in a Liverpool shirt. Mamadou Sakho is the only other question mark, but he's been in training for the last two weeks and should be fit enough to start.
And hopefully he does, as it would provide something close to a bright spot in what's likely to otherwise be a dreary affair. Dejan Lovren has shown glimpses of competence since Sakho's injury, but the Croatian shouldn't be near the starting eleven if Sakho is fit to start. Emre Can will likely feature at right-back again, with Alberto Moreno or Glen Johnson on the opposite side. Given that it's his last match for the club, however, a sentimental start for Johnson is possible.
Similarly, it's expected that Steven Gerrard will get the nod in his final fixture as a full-time Liverpool player, meaning that he'll join Jordan Henderson and one from Joe Allen or Lucas in the midfield. A return for the Brazilian would be welcome, and it would likely push Gerrard a bit further forward in the process. Whether or not he has the legs for it is irrelevant at this point, with the occasion trumping practicality as it did last weekend.
Up top there are myriad options, though it doesn't seem that Raheem Sterling should be one of them. Rodgers was quick to dismiss any talk of turmoil, and benching him after a string of consecutive starts might only exacerbate the problem, but it's hard to see past the events (or non-events, in the case of contract talks) of the week. That would force a start for Rickie Lambert or Fabio Borini, but the manager could also go with Philippe Coutinho in the false nine role that showed some promise earlier in the spring with Adam Lallana and Jordon Ibe providing support. Jerome Sinclair might be in the running as well, and there's no reason for Rodgers not to give him a start after bringing him on in the last two matches.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM BST/10:00AM EST on Sunday, with SyFy airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.
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