A repeat fixture from the final game of last season sees Stoke City host Liverpool to start the 2015-16 campaign, and no one can expect the same score as we saw in May. Liverpool are stronger thanks to smart summer recruiting and even though they may not be challenging for the title, Liverpool’s Premier League prospects look a lot better than they did in May.
Stoke City humiliated Liverpool 6-1 in Steven Gerrard’s final Premier League game to finish an excellent season from Mark Hughes side.
Both of these sides have been busy in the transfer window with some exciting signings. Roberto Firmino is additional playmaker and goalscorer in midfield, James Milner brings his experience, Christian Benteke should fire in the goals up front and Nathaniel Clyne is an upgrade at right-back from the departing Glen Johnson and Emre Can.
Johnson has headed to Stoke and bizarrely been given the number 8 shirt. The exciting signings for the Potters though are Dutch duo Ibrahim Affelay and Marco van Ginkel (loan).
A back injury could rule out Ryan Shawcross starting the season which would be a big loss for the home side. Marko Arnautović is a slight doubt with a thigh issue whilst Bojan is out.
Daniel Sturridge has been ruled out since September, so Christian Benteke can come in to play the central striker role.
Joe Allen is a big doubt in midfield with a thigh injury, but with the midfielders Liverpool have in the middle now, the Welsh international shouldn’t be considered a regular first-team player anyway.
Many expecting Stoke City to breeze into the top half this season – I’m not so convinced yet. Bojan is still injured, Ibrahim Affelay has had injury problems for a number of years, I don’t think they’ve replaced Steven N’Zonzi in midfield. And do they have a frequent goalscorer? Marko Arnautović and Jonathan Walters aren’t. Joselu didn’t convince me in Germany. But credit to how well Mark Hughes has done so far.
Which formation will Brendan Rodgers go with? I’m going with a 4-3-3 system at Stoke – get as many of those talented attacking players in as he can whilst having a stronger defence than when he has Emre Can as a back three. The German should be competing with Lucas for the position in front of the back four whilst James Milner and Jordan Henderson can be expected to start. Not sure where Roberto Firmino fits in in this formation or whether the Northern Irish manager will play a number 10. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana provide the creativity out wide for Christian Benteke, whilst Jordon Ibe and Lazar Marković are also in reserve. Joe Gomez to start left-back after an impressive pre-season?
Christian Benteke vs Philipp Wollscheid
Had a tough introduction to English football in the second half of last season, Philipp Wollscheid will need to step up at the back if indeed Ryan Shawcross doesn’t pass fit to play. Christian Benteke is a powerful threat, good at scoring with both his head and his right foot. There’s plenty of playmakers in this Liverpool side to create chances for him, as well as the pace to hit teams on the counter-attack or simply get beyond the full-backs. Stoke’s defence lacks a bit of pace, and one defender who does have that lacks defensive abilities – Glen Johnson.
Philippe Coutinho vs Glen Johnson
Liverpool players may shake the hands of their former teammate pre-game but they’ll be looking to expose his defensive inadequacies during the 90 minutes. Philippe Coutinho is just the man to do that. The Brazilian playmaker loves running at defenders, shooting from outside the box and creating chances for his teammates. He has a good target in Benteke to find this season, having previously had to make do with the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert.
Mame Biram Diouf vs Joe Gomez
If indeed Joe Gomez goes get the start, the youngster faces the pace of Mame Biram Diouf to welcome him to the Premier League. The 18-year-old was solid for Charlton Athletic last season, whilst Liverpool didn’t have a great deal of protection down that side in Alberto Moreno and Mamadou Sakho – will Brendan Rodgers take the risk on a teenager? I wouldn’t be surprised if he does.
2 – This is the first fixture in Premier League history to be played in back-to-back competitive games at the same stadium.
6 – Liverpool’s 6-1 defeat in this fixture at the end of last season was their biggest ever Premier League defeat.
11 – Stoke City have scored in their last 11 Premier League games at the Britannia Stadium.