With the Luis Suarez transfer saga that has dominated the summer at Anfield appearing to be put to bed in a positive fashion, Liverpool can begin their new season against Stoke City on Saturday with renewed optimism. Suarez, of course, was never going to feature on the opening day as a result of the six matches he still has to serve from a ban handed out for sinking his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic. But manager Brendan Rodgers has continued his overhaul of the squad during the summer and will expect to be able to cope without their talismanic Uruguayan, in the short term, at least.
While Andy Carroll has completed his permanent exit and Stewart Downing has joined him at West Ham, the Reds looks to have more depth in attack with the arrivals of Spaniards Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto. Aspas, who carried Celta Vigo for much of last season, is likely to be a starter on week one alongside Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, who both made considerable impacts after arriving in January. Former Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is also set to make his Liverpool debut on Saturday, as could Kolo Toure, with Martin Skrtel struggling with a knee injury. The match has come too early for left-back Aly Cissokho, whose loan move from Valencia was agreed on Friday.
“In every way the group is stronger and we still hope to add one or two more before the window closes," Rodgers said in his pre-match press conference. "There are a number of players we've been linked with but nothing imminent. We've got players to come back, we'll add players before the window closes, so the momentum over pre-season has been good.”
For Liverpool’s first opponents, there has been a change in coach but little shift in playing personnel. After Tony Pulis established Stoke in the Premier League but failed to get them to kick on or adapt their rigid and rudimentary playing style, despite spending big money, another Welshman, Mark Hughes, has been brought in. The former Manchester City boss certainly has a point to prove after his failed tenure at Queens Park Rangers. Yet, there has been little recruitment, with only Dutch left-back Erik Pieters and young former Barcelona center-back Marc Muniesa arriving. Hughes is eager, though, for his side to take the game to Liverpool.
“The talking stops tomorrow and we have to go out there and put everything that we have been working on into practice,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult because Liverpool are a top team, but we will go there and look to be positive.” The only absentees for Stoke will be United States international Brek Shea and midfielder Jamie Ness.
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D: Johnson, Toure, Agger, Enrique
M: Gerrard, Lucas, Allen
F: Aspas, Sturridge, Coutinho
Stoke City (probable)
D: Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters
M: Walters, Palacios, Nzonzi, Adam, Etherginton
Prediction: Clearly Suarez will be a loss, but in Iago Aspas Liverpool have a player who could prove to be one of the unheralded signings of the season. The talented and energetic forward can both score and assist and has hit the ground running in preseason.
At the other end, Liverpool have not yet signed the top quality center-back Rodgers would have liked. Stoke could have some joy if the Reds select Toure, a player who has been on the decline for several seasons. But, while Pieters is an upgrade at left-back, Stoke remain a side desperately lacking in creativity. If Liverpool can stop the supply out wide to Crouch then they should record an opening win.
Liverpool 2-0 Stoke
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League encounter will kick-off at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.