In the midst of a racism storm cloud that has dragged the club through the mud in recent weeks Kenny Dalglish’s enjoyed a profitable Christmas and end to 2011. The Reds won three and drew two of their six games in December to close the gap on Chelsea to just four points and put themselves in the running for a Champions League challenge in the New Year. Luis Suarez’s suspension could hamper those ambitions with the Uruguayan set to miss out until March at the latest. His absence from the side was felt in the defeat to Manchester City as Andy Carroll struggled once again to live up to his monumental price tag. Distractions off the field have plagued Liverpool this season and with Stewart Downing also making the headlines for the wrong reasons their aspirations of returning to Europe’s premier club tournament could be in jeopardy. Dalglish will need to call upon every ounce of his managerial experience to help the club ride through this crisis and maintain their push for the top four.
Stoke are also gunning for European football next season and they too enjoyed a similarly fruitful Christmas to their opponents on Saturday. Tony Pulis’ side have been in exceptional form since overcoming their mini-blip in November winning five of their last eight and losing only once against Manchester City. The form of Peter Crouch has been a key factor in their climb up the table as they put any lingering fears of being dragged into a relegation battle to the back of their mind. The former Tottenham star has become the first name on Pulis’ team sheet offering something different to the Potters’ trademark aerial play. He’ll be up against another former club this weekend and will play a pivotal role in Stokes attempts to break down a Liverpool defence that has conceded just eight goals at home this term.
Liverpool 6th : 34 points
Last six: L W D D W W
Team news: Luis Suarez is still suspended and misses out along with the injured Lucas who is sidelined for the season.
Key Player: Steven Gerrard
Injuries have haunted the Liverpool skipper this season but his match-winning cameo against Newcastle before the New Year indicated he still has what it takes to influence games. Should he start against Stoke expect him to dictate play from midfield and cause problems in attack.
Stoke City 8th : 29 points
Last six: W D D L W W
Team news: Tony Pulis takes his side to Anfield missing just one player with right back Andy Wilkinson out with a knee injury.
Key Player: Peter Crouch
A positive end to 2011 saw Crouch finally start to justify the £10 milllion spent on his services in the summer. Goals have finally started to flow whilst his aerial presence has seen him slot into Stokes playing style with ease. He’ll be determined to put one over on his former club on Saturday.
Liverpool have yet to lose at Anfield this season but some lacklustre displays in front of the Kop should see Stoke go into this game confident of taking something back to the Potteries.