Liverpool vs. Stoke City
The first English Premier League game of the season see’s Stoke City travel to Anfield to take on mighty Liverpool. Stoke City appointed Mark Hughes as their new manager during the off season and the former Manchester City manager has a tough opener with a trip to Anfield. Stoke City’s squad, though, is realtively unchanged and are a physically imposing team with a center half partnership of Huth and Shawcross being particularly impressive. Stoke with Peter Crouch up front and Johnaton Walters playing just off the big man will play a compact game when they dont have the ball and try to shut down Liverpool’s passing game with hard graft and lots of sweat. When they do have the ball, it will be a simple game plan of get it down the wings and try to use Crouch’s height. Set pieces will again be a vital part of Stoke City’s gameplan this year and their power in the air could trouble a Liverpool team that on paper appear outmatched physically.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must be sick of answering questions about want away striker Luis Suarez, the Urugayian has again been involved in the newspaper headlines for the wrong reason as he tries to manouver a way out of Liverpool. Suarez is banned for the start of the season, having been suspended for 10 games for biting Chelsea’s Ivanovich at the end of last season. But moving on from Suarez, Liverpool have bought some good young players in this off season in Aspas and Alberto and they will join a squad of young players with a couple of aged pro’s in Toure and Gerrard. Rodgers plays a passing brand of football and, while it took time to implement the game at Anfield, it has to be said that by the end of last season Liverpool were playing some attractive football and getting the results as well. The only piece that may be missing, of course, is an out and out finisher. Sturridge is for my money not an out and out finisher and Borini has been too inconsistent and hasn’t had enough game time due to injuries and Suarez is missing. Philip Coutinho was very good at the end of last season and I think the young Brazilian could be the key to Liverpool’s success or failure this year.
Its great to have the Premier League back, but I would not be going overboard on the first weekend’s games. The problems, of course, are the same as with any start to a season, we cant be sure how the new players are going to fit into the team in a pressure cooker situation. I have a feeling that the value in this game may well lie with the away side on the handicap market as I think Stoke will be tough to play against all season and I think Mark Hughes will do well at the Britannia. Overall, Liverpool are still building and I’m not sure they have added enough quality to push on to the Champions League places. But for the opening game, I’m going with draw at halftime. I think Stoke will hold Liverpool for an hour or so and Liverpool may come away with a win in the end, but I think this will be alot tighter than the bookmakers are pricing it up at.