Christmas number ones are overrated, but irrespective of their relative merits, they're a firm part of British cultural life. Chelsea enjoy that accolade after dropping just eight points from a possible 51 to lead Liverpool by six points at the top of the Premier League. After a dramatic stoppage time goal by Sadio Mané, Jürgen Klopp’s side took all three points at Goodison Park to make it two wins and two clean sheets in consecutive matches. Can Liverpool keep this up with the visit of Stoke City at Anfield?
Klopp’s side have an excellent record at Anfield this season. Three goals scored. Less than a goal conceded per game. An impressive 8.6 shots per game at home—a league high. Five wins and two draws from seven games. Stoke will hope to join West Ham United and Manchester United as the only teams to avoid defeat at Anfield, but will be considerable underdogs tomorrow. Anything less than three points for Merseyside’s finest would be seen as failure, especially after dropping points away to AFC Bournemouth and home to West Ham.
The late euphoria from beating Everton went some way to revive hopes of challenging for the Premier League, and it was Liverpool’s first 1-0 league victory of 2016. It was another late goal under Jürgen Klopp, but there have been instances of both admirable resilience and worrying softness this season. Much progress has been made, to the extent that challenging Chelsea for the title dominate discussion far more than finishing in the top four. The players and coaching staff deserve much credit for shifting expectations this season, but each game is seen as a test of these loftier ambitions.
For Liverpool 4-3-3:
Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner
Lallana, Henderson, Wijnaldum
Mané, Origi, Firmino
Joël Matip has missed two of Liverpool’s last four league games, including the Merseyside derby. The former Schalke 04 defender remains a doubt, but the fine form of Ragnar Klavan is reassuring. The 31-year-old has looked assured alongside both Dejan Lovren and Matip, stepping up in recent games when he has been needed. Simon Mignolet’s return at Loris Karius’ expense has helped Liverpool to consecutive clean sheets and provided some stability in defence.
The midfield should remain unchanged, but there could be a change in attack. Daniel Sturridge is pushing for a start after his match-winning contribution against Everton but will surely start at least one of the next three games. Roberto Firmino is without a goal or an assist in his last six games no may benefit from sitting a game out. The Brazilian has created chances and has taken up clever goalscoring positions since moving out to the left, but the results haven't matched his efforts. Divock Origi’s recent form should mean that he retains his place.
Mark Hughes has a number of long-term injury concerns ahead of the game as Jack Butland, Stephen Ireland, Phil Bardsley, and Geoff Cameron are set to return in January or February. Marc Muniesa is a doubt with a knee injury, but Marko Arnautović serves the second his three-match suspension against Liverpool. Bojan, Jonathan Walters, and Xherdan Shaqiri will form the away attack, but will former Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen find the space to provide the craft?
Allen is one of a number of former Liverpool players in the Stoke squad, but only Glen Johnson is likely to join the Welsh international in Hughes’ likely first eleven. Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam should make the matchday squad. Hughes will have been concerned by the way his side gave up a two-goal lead at home to struggling Leicester City last time out. Liverpool will be hoping to expose any fragility to keep within six points of a Chelsea side that has won 12 league games in a row.
Kickoff is set for 5.15PM GMT/12.15PM EST tomorrow on Sky Sports 1/HD in the UK and NBCSN in the US. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, Sportsnet in Canada, Star Sports Select HD1 in India, SuperSport 3 Africa in Kenya, Astro Supersport 3 in Malaysia, and Eleven Plus Singapore in Singapore are carrying the match. Online radio coverage is provided by BBC Radio 5 Live Extra. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.