Brendan Rodgers has hailed the significance of Simon Mignolet’s 89th minute penalty save to ensure a Liverpool victory over Stoke City on the opening day of the Premier League season. The two sides meet again on Sunday, with Liverpool having built on that first win to sustain a charge for a Champions League place.
Rodgers believes that moment, which was followed by Mignolet being swarmed by his teammates in celebration, was the instigator for a crucial growing camaraderie within the squad.
“You saw the reaction from the penalty save from Simon -- I think it was probably the start of the identity of the team and the spirit and the togetherness," he said, according to Liverpool’s official website.
"That was something that stayed with us right the way through and something that is growing all the time. I sense that as each day goes by, we're becoming more of a team. I see us in the dressing room before games now and there's that real camaraderie amongst us all and that gradually gets better with the more success you have. So hopefully we can keep developing that.”
Liverpool recovered from two-straight defeats over the festive period, which saw them drop from first to fourth in the Premier League, with a victory over Hull City on New Year’s Day. A 2-0 win over Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup last week was less impressive, but the side is expected to be boosted at the Britannia Stadium by the return to the starting lineup of Mignolet, Luis Suarez, Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho and Martin Skrtel, who all began the third-round tie on the bench.
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With Steven Gerrard starting his first match since injury last time out, Liverpool will be further boosted by the return of Daniel Sturridge to the squad on Sunday. The striker, with nine goals to his name this season, has not featured since suffering an ankle injury in November. Defender Mamadou Sakho will also be involved after his recent absence.
In contrast, Stoke will be denied the use of their recent star man. Oussama Assaidi was afforded few opportunities at Anfield after arriving from Heerenveen in 2012, but after a slow start following his loan move to the Potteries, he has scored four goals, including a strike in Stoke’s last league outing against Everton. He will be unavailable to play against his parent club, though, a fact Stoke manager Mark Hughes laments.
“It’s disappointing not to have him available because he has carried the flag for us in some regards over the last few weeks, so we will miss him,” he said, according to Stoke City’s official website.
Hughes’s main selection dilemma concerns who to start in goal. With Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen out injured, young English hope Jack Butland impressed in the FA Cup win over Leicester City last week. But with Danish veteran Sorensen now back, Hughes knows he has a tough decision on his hands.
“It’s a decision that I am going to have to make over the next 24 to 48 hours because Thomas joined in training today and came through it fine,” he said. “Whether he is ready for the game or not, we will have to see. It’s something that we will look at tomorrow in training and then make a decision.”
Where to watch: The Premier League encounter will kick off at 11.10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.