Have you had a good Christmas? I hope so. I hope your day was full of fun, excitement and laughter. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll be itching for a return of the football. The FA and Premier League, in their combined wisdom, allowed us an eight day break between the Everton game and the visit of Stoke City. Now we have to play three games in seven days. Chelsea, for the record, have ten days to do the same thing. Never let it be said that TV companies & the Football Association don’t have any influence over the destination of the title.
For Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool there can be no excuses. We’ve had a good rest and he’s got his team drilled to be as fit as possible. One of his mantras is that the fittest team wins and this is the sort of period in the calendar when that matters the most. The euphoria of beating the Ev with a last minute winner has barely died down, segueing nicely into Christmas to keep up all bouncing. Can Mark Hughes’ Stoke side act like late-arriving Scrooges, or do we have enough to keep Chelsea within touching distance?
There are no major surprises when it comes to the Liverpool team news. Philippe Coutinho said via social media recently that he was targeting a comeback for the Manchester City game, yet Klopp announced in his pre-Stoke press conference that that seems unlikely. One thing’s for certain, he definitely won’t be back for this one. Obviously Danny Ings continues to be absent. Joel Matip was missing again for the Everton game and the manager suggested he won’t be rushed back as long as there are alternatives fit and ready to start.
The return of both Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can to the substitute’s bench for the Merseyside derby was welcome, with the former hitting the scuffed shot that made all of the difference thanks to Sadio Mané’s awareness of what was going on around him. There’s no question that Klopp has a choice to make regarding both of them. Neither were fit enough to start the derby and had it been almost any other match they may not have made the bench. Instead they not only made it but got fifteen minutes into their legs and have now been training for a week.
The interesting thing when it comes to Can is that it’s normally been Gini Wijnaldum who’s made way for him. The Dutchman has been really impressive of late, however, whilst the German seems to slow down our play a little. Sturridge may not be 100% fit but he’s much more incisive than the blunt instrument that is Divock Origi. The manager may well make a late call, but I think we’ll line up like this: Mignolet – Clyne – Klavan – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Lallana – Wijnaldum – Mané – Firmino – Sturridge.
Ibahim Afellay injured his knee ligament back in April but returned to training with Stoke back in October. The Dutchman has been waiting to get an opportunity to return to the side and may well find himself on the bench at Anfield. Marko Arnautovic is one of Stoke’s most dangerous players when he’s on form and I can’t say I’m all that disappointed that he’ll be suspended for this one. Geoff Cameron and Phil Bardsley both have knee issues that will keep them sidelined.
It looked as though Jack Butland was ready to come back after suffering with an ankle issue for some time, then news emerged last week that he is likely to be missing for another couple of months. The major choice for Mark Hughes is over whether he tries to play football against us or revert to the tried and tested ‘Pulis’ method of just trying to kick us off the park. Joe Allen returns to Anfield for the first time since his move to the Potteries and he could well cause us issues, having been in fine form for Stoke.
What a difference two wins on the bounce can do for confidence after a disappointing couple of results. The performances against first Middlesbrough and then Everton suggested that Liverpool have learned from the previous two games and are now back on track in our chase for the Premier League title. This game could determine what sort of performance we put in against Manchester City, with a convincing victory on the back of a last-minute winner being enough to suggest we’re ready to take on the Citizens and send them packing.
Stoke are only seven points away from the relegation zone, so a couple of bad results on the spin and they may well find themselves in a bit of a dogfight. They’ve only won once in December and they’ve only picked up two wins since the start of November. Crucially they were 2-0 up and cruising against ten-man Leicester City in their last game before Christmas but went on to draw 2-2. It certainly feels as though another defeat or two could see Mark Hughes’ job under threat. All is not well in the Midlands.
In his press conference Jürgen Klopp referred to this game as being like the middle child. Everyone was focussed on Everton and now all eyes are on the visit of Man City, so can the crowd and the players remain focussed enough to get the three points? I think so and here are my main betting tips:
Goals, Goals, Goals
Well rested and with more than a week to train, I expect the Reds to be raring to go in this one. I think they’ll want to make a statement of intent ahead of the visit of City on New Year’s Eve, especially considering their dodgy looking defence. A convincing win over Stoke will give the likes of John Stones nightmares, so don’t be surprised if we put on a bit of a show. They’ve kept just five clean sheets in the league all season and I see no reason why our attack wouldn’t be able to break them down. It may not be a rout, but I don’t think it will be all that close.
If you agree with me then you might be interested in the 3/1 available for Liverpool to Win and The Match to Have Over 4.5 Goals. I can easily envisage a game that features five goals, with 5-0, 4-1 and 3-2 all perfectly viable scorelines. It’s 9/5 for Liverpool to Win and Both Teams To Score, and that’s another thing that isn’t out of the realms of the possible. Simon Mignolet’s done well since returning to the side but he hasn’t been under much pressure and I expect Stoke to bombard his box with high balls.
If you think that the Reds will win and expect to be as convincing as I do but don’t want to plump for predicting how many goals there are in the game then it may be worth looking at Liverpool with a -2 Handicap, which is 2/1. That means a 3-0 win will see you in the money. If, on the other hand, you think our 1-0 win over Everton was a sign of us tightening up at the back whilst also being more conservative going forward then you can get 4/1 for Under 1.5 Goals.
Who Will Score The Goals?
As always, if there are going to be goals then there have to be goalscorers, so who do I think will get their names on the scoresheet? The Reds have scored more goals than any other side so far this season and, remarkably, have done so without Daniel Sturridge scoring in the Premier League. The striker looked impressive during his cameo against Everton and I think this could be the game when he finally breaks his duck for this campaign. Sturridge is 7/2 to Score The Last Goal and I like the look of that.
Gini Wijnaldum scored twelve goals for Newcastle last term, all of them at home. He’s only got one for us so far but has started to grow into the game more and more in recent weeks. I think the 4/1 available for Wijnaldum to Score Anytime looks tasty. If you think old faces could come back to haunt us then you may be tempted by the 9/2 you can get for Joe Allen to Score Anytime or even the 4/1 for Peter Crouch to Score Anytime.
I can’t help but feel like this is going to have a good few goals in it so I’m opting for the 2/1 on Liverpool with a -2 handicapSturridge to Score The Last Goal, which is 7/2. Whether you did get what you wanted for Christmas or you didn’t, let’s hope that the Reds give us what we want against Stoke.