Once again Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool team manages to frustrate and confound. Having so comprehensively despatched with Everton in the Merseyside derby despite not really needing to come out of second gear, the visit of Bournemouth was surely going to be little more than a formality, wasn’t it? The most frustrating thing about our draw with the Cherries is that it plays straight into the narrative of us struggling to break down the ‘smaller’ teams in the league. It also lengthens the number of games we’ve played but failed to win without Sadio Mané in the team.
That Eddie Howe’s side scored their opener because of a brain fart on the part of Gini Wijnaldum was irritating enough, but that their equaliser came from a long throw should set alarm bells ringing considering we’ve got Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion up next. Stoke are actually a decent enough ball playing side under Mark Hughes, yet when they come up against us he decides to resort to Pulis-ball. If we can get a result it will be the perfect preparation for facing an actual Tony Pulis side, whilst if we don’t we may be lucky to take one point from both games. So what do you need to know ahead of placing a bet?
I don’t want to suggest that Jürgen Klopp was the bearer of bad news in his pre-match press conference, but it’s definitely fair to say that he could have arrived with chirpier news. Firstly he informed everyone that the swelling on Sadio Mané’s knee had gone down enough to mean that a scan could be done and the result is that he will definitely need surgery. The Senegalese internal will not play again this season, which is abysmal news to be honest. At least the manager could tell us that Philippe Coutinho’s feeling better and would be fit and firing on Saturday, right? Wrong. The Brazilian went off just after half-time on Wednesday night having been sick and Klopp confirmed that he’s still ill and has yet to return to training.
The only slightly good news, if you can call it that, is that Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson are progressing in the right manner. That said, Klopp refused to put any kind of likely return date on either of them, so in essence they might as well be on the moon. Daniel Sturridge has been training all week and may be called into action, but the fact that he remained on the bench for the entire ninety minutes against Bournemouth suggests that the manager’s not entirely convinced by his fitness. The problem facing Klopp is that we’re definitely running out of options without turning to youth players, so the England number nine may well be called into action for this one.
The former Dortmund boss has long faced criticism about his training methods, yet the reality is that few of the injuries that we’re suffering from right now are anything to with how he trains his players. Danny Ings had a repeat of his knee injury, Hendo’s problem is ongoing, Coutinho’s ill, Sadio’s leg went in the Everton game and Adam Lallana was injured on England duty, so none of them can be pinned on Klopp however much his critics might want them to be. So what line-up will he go with? It’s pretty much anyone who’s not part of the walking wounded, so I’m guessing it’s likely to be: Mignolet – Clyne – Matip – Lovren – Milner – Lucas – Can – Wijnaldum – Firmino – Sturridge – Origi.
Mark Hughes doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of problems as his opposite number, but there are still some questions for the Potters boss to answer. He opted to go with three at the back against Burnley during the week, only to see his side lose 1-0. Whether he’ll stick with the formation for our visit to the bet365 Stadium remains to be seen, yet I’d be surprised considering his penchant for opting for the rough and ready football against us in the past. Stoke’s number one Jack Butland has been missing for some time but returned to training during the international break, so he could be a surprise inclusion on the bench for this one.
Elsewhere there are doubts rather than major absentees for Stoke, with Hughes hoping that both Mame Biram Diouf and Marc Muniesa will recover from knocks in time. Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been missing with a calf injury, has been training for a few days and could come off the bench at the very least. Jon Walters, the Tory voter from Birkenhead who always seems to cause us problems, has been out with a concussion but, again, Hughes is hoping he’ll be ok to play. Charlie Adam, Geoff Cameron and former Red Joe Allen will make up the midfield behind Marko Arnautovic and Saido Berahino in the forward positions.
What even is form any more? I’m not sure I know. The ‘race’ for the top four appears to be more like several bald men fighting over a comb. We’re ideally placed, all things considered, but our refusal to put down any kind of marker may be what causes us problems. If you want to be a glass half-full type then you’ll likely point to the fact that we’re unbeaten in five, including games against Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton. If you prefer to look on the gloomy side of life then one point taken from games against Hull City, Leicester City and Bournemouth will give you your fix.
For Stoke things are a little less mixed. They’ve won two of the nine games that they’ve played since the start of February, though they did manage draws against Everton at home and Manchester City away in that time. They’ve lost five games at home, including a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Spurs back in September and a 2-1 loss to Chelsea at the end of March. The reality is that if Liverpool have any serious ambitions of finishing in the top four then we need to be able to leave the bet365 Stadium with all three points. The problem is, haven’t we said something similar a few times before?
This might be the most frustrating Liverpool side that I can remember. Exceptional against the top sides but deeply, deeply flawed when going up against the bottom ones. So what should we expect from the Reds’ trip to the Potteries?:
Old Faces To Haunt Us
I talk about narrative quite a lot on these pages. That’s because I’ve seen old players score against too many times in the past not to. I’ve also seen us absolutely batter sides whose manager has slagged us off before kick-off, or Phil Neville commit a handball after criticising Suarez for doing just that. Narrative is a powerful thing in football and we’re about to come up against a whole lot of it at the bet365 Stadium. Firstly there’s the ‘Liverpool can’t beat lesser teams’ narrative, then there’s the ‘Liverpool haven’t won without Mané this season’ narrative and finally there’s the ex-players narrative. The Stoke line-up is such that we’ll almost certainly face Charlie Adam, who couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo when he played for us, Joe Allen and Peter Crouch.
Allen and Crouch both did well for us, actually, but they were moved on at times when they would have felt that they should have been given longer. There’s also the matter of Evertonian Jonathon Walters who always seems to do well against us. If you’re looking for a bet then Walters at 3/1 to Score Anytime is one worth considering. Joe Allen is 5/1 to Score Anytime and, whilst he might not be a prolific goalscorer, that is worth a look. Peter Crouch isn’t always at his best when he plays us but narrative is my reasoning, so 4/1 for Crouch to Score Anytime will tempt some. Finally there’s our old pal Charlie Adam. He seemed to love his pies more than his goals at Anfield, but Adam is 6/1 to Score Anytime and narrative is once again worth considering.
Origi To Score?
Divock Origi has been scoring for us this season without looking all that impressive, but his goal against the Ev seemed to revitalise him and he was excellent against Bournemouth. If we are to have any hoping of clinching a top four spot then we’ll need the Belgian to keep firing them in for us as the season comes to a close and it’s 2/1 for Origi to Score Anytime. If we’re going to get the win then you fancy the youngster will have to play a big part in that.
Narrative is my watch word for this particular encounter and between Brexit and our recent derby win it’s difficult to see past right-winger (not on the pitch) Jonathon Walters getting some revenge for last weekend. That’s why I’m going to be placing my first bet on Walters to Score Anytime @ 3/1. I also think that Divock Origi will take plenty of confidence from the goals he’s scored in our last two games, so my second tip is the 2/1 for Origi to Score Anytime.