Friday, August 16, 2013

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs Stoke City

The 2013/14 Premier League season opens at Anfield, with Liverpool hoping to avoid any distractions against Stoke City.

The red half of Merseyside has seen its summer dominated by the future of Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan striker having spent much of the transfer window pushing for a move away from the club - only to then suggest on the eve of the new season that he is willing to stay put.

Brendan Rodgers has, understandably, expressed a desire to turn attention away from the Suarez saga - the forward is still serving a domestic suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic - and focus on the start of a campaign he hopes will see Liverpool position themselves back in the race for a top-four finish and a return to UEFA Champions League competition.

Fresh faces have been drafted in to try and aid the Reds in their quest and, on the back of a positive pre-season, they must now start providing a return on the considerable investment made in them.

The biggest change at Stoke heading into the new season has come in the dugout, with Mark Hughes having succeeded Tony Pulis - the man who has cemented the Potters as a Premier League outfit.

Hughes has plenty of prior experience of top-flight management, but needs to prove that an ill-fated spell in charge of Queens Park Rangers was a merely a blot on an otherwise impressive copy book.

He is unlikely to tinker too much with the philosophies that served Stoke well under Pulis, but will be aware of the need to find an added goal threat from somewhere - with only rock-bottom QPR having found the target on fewer occasions that the Potters last term.

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is rated at about 80 per cent fit, but appears to have shown enough to warrant inclusion in Brendan Rodgers' starting XI.

Centre-backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel (both knee injuries) are expected to be available, although the latter is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench.

Summer signings Simon Mignolet and Kolo Toure are set to make their competitive debuts, while fellow new arrivals Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto are also in the squad, but Luis Suarez is suspended for a further six matches.

Midfielder Brek Shea misses Stoke's season opener with a knee injury suffered during a friendly run-out in the United States last month.

Another midfielder, Jamie Ness, is also ruled out of Hughes' first competitive game at the helm after his involvement in pre-season was curtailed by injury.

Summer signings Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa, both defenders, are in contention for debuts while Asmir Begovic looks set to remain first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Thomas Sorensen and Jack Butland.

No comments: