Preview: Stoke City v Liverpool

Liverpool will want to put their draw at home to Bournemouth behind them with a comprehensive win over Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Premier League
Date: 8 April 2017
Matchweek 32
Kick-off: 16H00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Bet365 Stadium

Referee: M. Dean
Assistants: S. Long, D. Cann
Fourth official: J. Simpson

Head-to-head summary:

Stoke City 99 19 27 53
Liverpool 99 53 27 19

Previous encounter:

Liverpool 4-1 Stoke City 27/12/16 (Premier League)

Liverpool goalscorers: A. Lallana (34′), R. Firmino (44′), G. Imbula (OG 59′), D. Sturridge (70).
Stoke City goalscorers: J. Walters (12′)

Players to watch:

In a team really struggling for form and cohesion, Stoke will need a commanding performance from Joe Allen. The former Liverpool midfielder has been one of a few shining lights for Potters boss Mark Hughes this season, with the Welshman contributing with six goals and a further three assists. He should need no external motivation to be up for this encounter.

In the absence of Sadio Mane, the Reds’ other main creative influence Philippe Coutinho knows he needs to become the focal point of the Liverpool attack once again. He has been weighing in goals and assists in recent games, and Liverpool certainly looked weaker for his absence, after he was withdrawn against Bournemouth through illness – with the team going on to concede a late equaliser.

Team form and manager quotes:

Stoke come into this match on the back of three league losses, in 12th place with 36 points from 31 games.

They last beat lowly Middlesbrough 2-0 ahead of a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Manchester, but then lost 2-1 to Chelsea, 2-0 to Leicester and 1-0 to Burnley.

Liverpool, meanwhile, still haven’t worked out how to overcome the so-called smaller sides, as they last drew 2-2 with Bournemouth after a good 3-1 win over high-flying Everton in the Merseyside derby.

That came after a 1-1 draw with Manchester City, following wins over Arsenal and Burnley, to leave them third on the standings, with 60 points from their 31 matches played.

Ahead of the match, Hughes told a press conference: “I feel as though our run needs to be put into context given the quality of opposition we have been up against in recent weeks.

“You could say that arguably this set of fixtures is the most difficult we’ve had this season and that continues obviously with the game against Liverpool tomorrow.

“We’ve gone through fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea, Leicester City who are in resurgent form and Burnley away which is always difficult because their home record is strong, and it’s allowed us to drop a couple of positions in the league.”

He added: “A game against Liverpool is always a big fixture whenever you play them so we are looking forward to it. We’ve had fantastic games with them at home so we are hoping for more of the same.”

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp added: “We want to qualify for the Champions League and if you don’t then you can think about the reasons for that, but at the moment we don’t think about that or why we only have 60 points or why we have already 60 points.

“The only thing we think is about building a line-up for Stoke – and that’s a real challenge today, actually – and how we can be as strong as possible there and win the game.”

He further said: “[They are a] Good team. Different parts in the season, different performances, but still good.

“Not the best results in the last few games, but really good and Stoke is not an easy place to be, everybody knows about this.”

Team news:

Hughes will have a near fully-fit squad to choose from for the visit of Liverpool. Xherdan Shaqiri (calf) and Jonathan Walters (concussion) sat out the Burnley game as Marc Muniesa (knee) and Mame Diouf (knee) picked up knocks in that game, but all for are expected to be fit.

Klopp is waiting to see if Coutinho recovers from an illness to play while Sadio Mane (knee), Adam Lallana (thigh) and Jordan Henderson (foot) are all long-term absentees, as Daniel Sturridge returned to training this week.