WILL DYER (@w2Dyer)'s back with his first preview of the Christmas period as Liverpool host Stoke.
Liverpool v Stoke | Tuesday 17:15 | Sky Sports 1
As if the festive football juices weren’t already flowing freely enough, we’re being served up a second course to the Boxing Day fixtures with a Tuesday afternoon clash between Liverpool and Stoke at Anfield.
The Potters make the short trip to Merseyside coming off the back of two home draws; one of which they performed wonderfully with 10 men and the other in which they threw away a two-goal lead against 10 men.
Not Stoking any fires
Stoke don’t have all too much to grumble about; sitting 11th with just two defeats in their last 12 Premier League outings. Still, the Reds are arguably in better spirits, thanks largely to an injury-time winner from Sadio Mane at Goodison Park in the derby last week.
That bit of Stoke form has gone mostly unnoticed. Losing just two of 12 games, but can that good form be attributed to the level of opposition they’ve been beating during that period? After all, their five Premier League wins this season have come against Burnley, Watford, Swansea, Hull and Sunderland.
I’d argue that it’s a near certainty that the three clubs relegated from the top-flight come May are in that group of five teams that Stoke have beaten so far this season. So then, nothing to shout about.
Being ‘flat-track bullies’ isn’t something normally associated with the Potters but this campaign they’ve definitely been quite easy to predict; drawing against the sides around them like Leicester, Southampton, West Brom and West Ham and losing to Spurs, City and Arsenal.
Reds getting meaner
At time of writing Liverpool sit above all of those clubs. The transformation under Jurgen Klopp continues, with the defence even trending in the right direction now; the Reds recording four clean sheets in their last six league matches.
Joel Matip hasn’t trained fully yet and although he’s reported to Klopp that he’ll be fit to play it’s likely that the boss won’t risk him until he’s 100%. The Cameroonian centre back is just 25 years-old and already has the presence of a veteran but even without him I fancy Liverpool to keep Stoke quiet.
The Reds have been dominating possession and trapping their opposition in their half, something they’ve been doing all season but it seems to have been more efficient of late.
Philippe Coutinho is a huge loss but his absence does mean that Giorginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson play simultaneously and that shores up their midfield.
Home win, clean sheet
Marko Arnautovic will be sorely missed through suspension and although Stoke have scored in their last two away games, the goals have come via a penalty and an own-goal. I think they could be goal-shy here.
Traditionally, the Potters don’t score on Merseyside, they failed to when facing Everton in August and they’ve only done so in one of eight Premier League games at Anfield since their promotion in 2008.
Liverpool are very short against a stubborn Stoke outfit at 1/3, especially without their star man Coutinho but Mane and Divock Origi are on fire and Liverpool to win ‘to nil' looks a strong bet at 5/4 with PaddyPower.
Liverpool v Stoke – Liverpool to win ‘to nil’ (5/4 PaddyPower)