A week after a morale-boosting five-goal away rout of Norwich, and three days after a morale-sapping home defeat to Udinese, Liverpool return to Anfield this Sunday to host the visit of Tony Pulis’ Stoke City.
Stoke will be buoyed after their impressive home win against Brendan Rodgers’ former club Swansea City last weekend, with ex-Liverpool man Peter Crouch currently leading the Potters’ scoring charts with four goals on the books so far this season.
Of course, returning to Anfield this Sunday besides Crouch will be midfielder Charlie Adam, who Rodgers let go to the Britannia Stadium just this summer.
Following Thursday night’s Europa League loss against Udinese, here are six key battles to watch at Anfield this Sunday.
Aforementioned in-form striker Peter Crouch will be coming up against an old colleague in the form of Martin Skrtel, whose form isn’t quite matching Crouch’s at the moment.
Skrtel has been a mainstay in a Liverpool defence leakier than last season’s, and he has already committed some big gaffes directly leading to goals conceded.
While he has a reputation as a good header of the ball, Crouch’s sheer height will provide a whole different prospect.
And lest Liverpool fans forget, Crouch has always had, and still has, “great feet for a big man.”
Not only will he cause problems for the Liverpool defenders from Stoke’s direct style of play, he will also look to open them up with a moment of brilliance.
An equally huge task for a Liverpool defender will be for Andre Wisdom to shackle the threat of Michael Kightly, assuming that Wisdom keeps his place in the starting lineup.
Wisdom has the power, pace and physique to stifle a Premier League left-winger, but the reality is that at 19, he is still a novice to the Premier League. His rawness and enthusiasm might yet get the better of him.
And Kightly is no mug either: Following a decent season with relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers, he moved to the Britannia this summer and has impressed for Tony Pulis on a left-sided role.
No matter which right-back he faces on the day, Kightly will be looking to trouble them all afternoon.
Next comes the battle between Reds reject Charlie Adam and his replacement, Joe Allen.
Both players have made their name from their passing, but Adam’s long balls are in direct contrast to Allen’s short, quick releases.
And both represent the differences between Liverpool and Stoke’s respective playing styles: Stoke’s a more direct aerial game in principle, and Liverpool’s a possession-based approach on the floor.
While Adam showed at Liverpool that his quickness of thought and feet weren’t quite up to par, he still packs a punch from his left peg, and Allen will have to ensure that he replicates his terrier-like hassling of an opposition midfielder in that middle third at Anfield.
In front of Allen, if Rodgers rewards him for an impressive run of form, will be fellow new signing Nuri Sahin, who will be coming up against Stoke new boy Steven Nzonzi.
While both players have the ability to play as box-to-box midfielders, Sahin has taken up a more attacking role among Liverpool’s three midfielders, while Nzonzi has dropped back to take a more defensive position under Pulis.
Both midfielders are capable of chipping in with important goals—indeed Sahin has scored three goals in his last two appearances for Liverpool—and they will be looking to make their respective marks at Anfield on Sunday.
Out on the Liverpool left, Raheem Sterling, with his brand of cutting in on his right as an inverted left-winger, will face Robert Huth as a formidable physical presence.
Sterling showed against Manchester City that he has the stamina and discipline to deal with a physical defence, and he has shown an impressive attacking ability that has seen him rewarded with call-ups to the England senior and U21 squads.
Huth, while a much-improved defender compared to his Chelsea days, will have his work cut out against the pint-sized, twinkle-toed Sterling, who is capable of playing on both flanks.
Huth’s defensive partner Ryan Shawcross will be handed the unenviable task of dealing with Luis Suarez, who comes off a hat trick against Norwich last Saturday.
Suarez’s ability on and off the ball have never been doubted, and everyone associated with Liverpool will be hoping that his scintillating performance last weekend was the start of Suarez finally adding goals and finishing to his game to complete his attacking arsenal.
Shawcross, who is prone to a hefty challenge or two, might represent a decent attacking outlet for Stoke on set pieces, but he will have his hands full dealing with a Suarez determined to build on his excellent outing at Carrow Road.
And who knows? After a series of non-penalties in recent weeks and resulting pressure applied from Rodgers and ex-referees, Shawcross will have to be at his best to stop Suarez.
Also check out: How Liverpool Can Get the Best out of Raheem Sterling
For extensive coverage on the Premier League, please check out my Bleacher Report writer’s profile. For all things Liverpool—match reactions, opinions et al—please subscribe to The Red Armchair.