Yeah, this looks totally professional, Tony.
Has anyone ever enjoyed a match against Stoke? Not just us, but anyone? I can't imagine that they have. Especially the bigger teams, who Stoke always seems to get a result against. And especially us. And especially when we have to go there. And especially Bart.
Liverpool haven't won in three trips there. The first was an absolutely dross 0-0. The second a just as bad 1-1, and last year was the topper where they were horsed 2-0 and didn't even look that good. But Liverpool aren't the only team to struggle at the Britannia Stadium, as Arsenal, Chelsea, and City didn't win there last year, and Chelsea have already failed to gain all three points there this season. I'd say people don't like being that close to Wales, but Liverpool is probably closer to there anyway. Whatever.
Stoke have had a good start to the season, they haven't lost yet in fact. They drew with Chelsea at home to start the season, as well as Norwich, and beaten West Brom (it can be done!). In between all of that they managed four wins in Europa League qualifying to get themselves to the group stage of that competition. And by doing so it allowed them a bit of a deadline day splurge. They pinched Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch from Spurs (because Tottenham were so blessed with strikers or something?), as well as Cameron Jerome -- you may remember him from scoring the one impressive goal he'll ever manage at Anfield. Crouch and Palacios fit in to the Tony Pulis plan of hoof it long to the tall dude while kicking the rest of your midfield to bits. Jerome comes in when he comes up with the genius plan of "more pace no matter the touch!" when the first part doesn't work.
That may be a little harsh on Stoke, as they're not quite the blunt object they once were. However, the main tactic is still to get it wide, and then get it into the box for billy clubs Crouch and Kenwye Jones to hump the ball into the net. But Etherington and Pennant are a danger on the wings, and Woodgate and Huth will be on set pieces. Not giving away silly fouls is tantamount against this side.
It's Huth and Woodgate at the back that will make things rough too. If Woodgate had stayed fit (and somewhere near sober), I have no doubts he would have been England's best center half for a decade. He showed flashes at Leeds, had a dominating season at Newcastle back when they weren't a sitcom, but after the move to Madrid the injuries hit. Still, he's quite useful, and in combination with Huth Liverpool are going to have to resist the urge to just hoof it up to Carroll -- if he starts -- because they'll nullify that threat in a hurry.
One would think after the blistering Bolton performance that Kenny wouldn't make any changes. He may have to. Martin Kelly doesn't look to be quite ready to make this one, but Glen Johnson may be. So there's one. Everyone says Charlie Adam is fine, so he should re-partner Lucas in the middle. Up top is where things get interesting. Does he stick with the 4-2-2-2 with Downing and Henderson behind Kuyt and Suarez? Or does he opt for a 4-2-3-1 with Suarez behind Carroll?
Considering the defensive pairing of Stoke, the greater pace and trickery of the former may be the way to go. But then considering the nature of this game it may bog down to, maybe Carroll is a better fit. Either way, this is a stern test of where the Reds are at, probably an even more stern one than the trip to the Emirates to see what was a crumbling Arsenal side at that moment. Stoke have way more momentum going, and won't fear anyone at home. A win here, and we'll have an even better idea that Liverpool are on to bigger and better things.