Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Stoke City vs Liverpool | Tuesday 5 January | Britannia Stadium | 22:00
Both Stoke City and Liverpool will look to bounce back after dreadful Premier League performances when they meet in their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday evening.
With Liverpool struggling in the league as well as looking shaky in the Europa League and Stoke harbouring no real title aspirations, you can count on Mark Hughes and Jurgen Klopp fielding their strongest possible starting elevens.
To Win Match (90 Min)
Stoke City 2/1
The Potters have come a long way since the departure of Tony Pulis and his unattractive but effective brand of route one football. Under Mark Hughes, the side have been transformed, playing a mesmeric brand of attacking football that has at times, blown away some of the league’s most decorated teams. Key to these performances have been the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic.
The trio, all of whom have played at the highest level, have been in scintillating form, routinely tearing opposition defences to shreds. Most impressive of the three has perhaps been Arnautovic. Having arrived at Stoke in September 2013, the powerful Austrian winger has stamped his authority on the Premier League this season bagging seven goals and a further three assists for his side. One feels that if Stoke are to get through to the final of the League Cup, the Austrian will need to be at his brilliant best.
It’s not just up front that Stoke have looked good this season, in Jack Butland, they have arguably the world’s best young goalkeeper, and it should only be a matter of time before he’s challenging Joe Hart as England’s number one.
Also impressive for Stoke this term has been the form of Erik Pieters and former Liverpool fullback, Glen Johnson. The two fullbacks have been in excellent touch this term and provide width going forward while also adhering to their defensive duties – something Hughes will have drummed into their heads during preseason. They will likely line-up alongside Ryan Shawcross and Marc Muniesa (who should have recovered from a hamstring niggle by Tuesday) who have both been as solid as ever this season.
If the side can put the disappointing performance, that saw them go down 2-1 against West Brom over the weekend, they have every chance of smashing this battered Liverpool side. Expect Hughes’ front three to adopt a direct approach, running at the Liverpool defence at any opportunity they get. If they can implement the fluid, flowing football that’s seen them defeat both Manchester sides as well as Chelsea in the league this season, they’ve got every chance of piling more misery on Klopp and his charges.
Jurgen Klopp knows that he’s got a mammoth task on his hands this season if he’s to steer Liverpool to a top four finish. He’ll perhaps welcome the distraction that the semi-final of the Capital One Cup offers as his side continue their wildly inconsistent run in the league which sees them sitting in eighth position - six points off the top four.
Liverpool’s cause has not been helped by a series of injuries to key players. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Martin Skrtel, James Milner, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are all out for Tuesday evening’s clash.
The Reds have struggled in all areas of the pitch this season, scoring just 22 goals while conceding 24 in their first 20 games of the season. Toothless in attack, fragile at the back and all at sea in the midfield; Klopp will likely overhaul his squad in the summer. For now, though, he’ll have to get the best out of what he has at his disposal.
The Reds were atrocious last time out against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground, where they limped to a 2-0 defeat. Klopp was furious following the game in which goals from Mikail Antonio and Andy Carroll sunk the hapless Reds. Christian Benteke was again uninspired as he failed to trouble the West Ham defence while Roberto Firmino has yet to repay the Liverpool faithful after his big money move from Germany in the summer.
Benteke will likely start again for the Reds with Coutinho, Firminho / Lallana and Ibe behind him. There is more than enough attacking flair to take apart any defence in the league, but they’re just not clicking at the moment. Ibe has been good in spells, but struggled last time out against West Ham. The same is true for Coutinho, who was being touted as the next big thing toward the end of last season. Lallana has battled for form since his big money move from Southampton and will quickly need to prove his worth if he is to be part of Klopp’s plans moving forward.
Dejan Loveren and Mammadou Sakho are likely to start at the heart of the Liverpool’s defence while Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne will be doing the business up and down the flanks. Sakho and Loveren will have to put Saturday’s performance behind them if they’re going to cope with the attacking threat that Stoke City pose.
Verdict: Stoke to Win or Draw (Double Chance 90 Min) 5/10
Both teams come into this game off the back of disappointing weekend results. However, with that said, Stoke still look like the more confident team at the moment. I just don’t see Liverpool’s front three with their current form troubling Shawcross and Muniesa in the Stoke defence. Back the Potters to claim the win or draw on the double chance at 5/10.
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