Oh dear. After beating Everton at Anfield, Jürgen Klopp became the first Liverpool manager to win his first three Merseyside derbies in the league. The visitor's confidence evaporated in the face of their local rival, and they were soundly beaten 3-1. What followed against Bournemouth was a familiar Premier League tale that has been repeated since Liverpool beat Manchester City to tie up 2016.
Beat Manchester City but draw with Sunderland. Draw with Manchester United but lose to Swansea City. Draw with Chelsea but lose to Hull City. Beat Tottenham Hotspur but lose to Leicester City. March's three fixtures proved to be an exception to the pattern with wins against Arsenal and Burnley supplemented by a draw with Pep Guardiola's Man City. March gives way to April, but Liverpool are back at it again. Beat Everton but draw with Bournemouth.
A frustrating paragraph indeed. Liverpool may have a predilection for such inconsistent performances, but the top seven's dance cards are now full. It's mostly negative goal difference teams all the way until the end of the season, and that reality curiously and understandably terrifies Liverpool fans. With a draw to minus twelve GD Bournemouth out of the way, it's another minus twelve opponent in the form of Stoke City. Would you like to know how well they haven't been playing?
Stoke have only won one game out of their last six in the Premier League, losing the last three. They've conceded four goals on six occasions this season against Manchester City, Tottenham (twice), Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Chelsea. Guess which Premier League team ranks first in conceding four goals or more this season? No pressure, Liverpool.
There are quite a few absentees through injury for tomorrow's game. Sadio Mané has been ruled out for the rest of the season as he needs knee surgery, Adam Lallana is still a month away from returning to action, Jordan Henderson is in injury limbo, and Philippe Coutinho might miss the game after being substituted against Bournemouth due to illness. Even with any natural grumbling about failing to make any additions in January, Liverpool are having a tough time with injuries. The reasons behind them may be worth delving into another time.
Both Marko Grujić and Daniel Sturridge were back in the matchday squad against Bournemouth on Wednesday, bolstering Jürgen Klopp's options with only seven league games to go. Divock Origi has scored two goals in two matches after the international break, Emre Can is playing well in different midfield positions, Joël Matip will return to partner Dejan Lovren against Stoke, and Liverpool are currently sitting in third. There are positive developments to take to Staffordshire.
Liverpool's absences do, however, leave much to think about in terms of predicting a starting line-up. If Coutinho fails to recover in time to start, does Klopp keep the midfield intact and thrust Daniel Sturridge into the starting line-up? Perhaps Ben Woodburn starts on the left or Trent Alexander-Arnold starts on the right with Firmino on the left. Georginio Wijnaldum might be pushed into the front three with Grujić getting his first start of the season. Does Klopp stick with the same 4-3-3 formation or spring a surprise?
For Liverpool (4-3-3):
Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Can, Lucas, Wijnaldum; Firmino, Origi, Coutinho
To minimise any disruption to the team, Klopp is likely to retain the 4-3-3 formation that has been used throughout the season and just find a replacement for Coutinho on the left if the Brazilian is unable to start. A wildcard option could be to play a diamond in midfield, but that might be asking too much of Liverpool's fullbacks in attack. Matip will come in for Ragnar Klavan to resume his partnership with Lovren, but the real question surrounds Coutinho's involvement—he would be a big loss considering his return to form.
As for Stoke, Mark Hughes confirmed that Jon Walters should be fit after missing the midweek defeat to Burnley with concussion. Xherdan Shaqiri is back in training and could feature, but Marc Muniesa and Mame Biram Diouf are doubtful with knocks to their knees. Stoke enter an easier run of fixtures after playing Liverpool and will look to take something from the game to build upon. Hughes is likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation but may turn to the aerial ability of Peter Crouch instead of the mobility of Saido Berahino.
Liverpool need to respond to dropping points late on at Anfield, but a win would provide a healthy return of seven points from nine in the space of a week after the international break. A win would not only banish some legitimate concerns but also keep Liverpool in third with a tough trip to the Hawthorns to come a week on Sunday.
Kickoff is set for 3PM BST/10AM EST tomorrow with no coverage in the UK. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, Sportsnet World in Canada, DAZN in Germany, Star Sports Select HD2 in India, Supersport3 Africa in Kenya, Astro Supersport 3 in Malaysia, and NBC Sports Live in the US are carrying the match. 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.