Much to ponder: Rodgers needs to get his selection decisions spot on against Stoke this Saturday
Liverpool host Mark Hughes’ Stoke City at Anfield in their opening game of the new 2013/14 Premier League season on Saturday lunchtime, with head coach Brendan Rodgers facing a number of tricky selection dilemmas ahead of this eagerly anticipated clash.
The Reds have enjoyed a productive preseason programme so far this summer, on the pitch that is, with six wins from seven; however, that all counts for nothing when the real stuff gets underway this weekend.
Consequently the Northern Irishman will be needing to get his starting lineup spot on against the Potters if the Merseyside giants are to get off to a winning start in the new campaign, and this is how Liverpool should set up in 4-3-3 formation on Saturday if they wish to achieve that aim.
Keeping his eye on the ball: Mignolet will be hoping for a clean sheet on his Reds debut against Stoke
The Reds’ new £9 million acquisition from Sunderland has looked impressive so far in preseason, having let in just two goals, albeit in far less trying circumstances than he will face going forward at Anfield.
And the Belgium international is sure to have his aerial abilities tested to the full against Stoke this weekend, making it a potentially tricky Premier League debut for the goalkeeper, but equally one Mignolet will never forget as well.
A head for heights: Johnson is now one of Liverpool's most important players
Glen Johnson was one of the Reds’ most consistent and stand-out performers last season, whatever position he was played in, and is now one of the club’s most experienced players. He will be relied upon to produce more of the same for Rodgers in the new campaign.
And against the Potters, it will be the England international’s forward thrusts down the right wing in support of his midfield that is likely to be of more importance than his sometimes still suspect defensive game.
Now you see him, now you don't: Enrique in typically attack-minded mode during preseason
Liverpool may currently be looking at Granada left-back Guilherme Siqueira, reports the Liverpool Echo; however, that is only to provide cover for first-choice Jose Enrique, who was a model of stability in the role on Merseyside last season.
And similar to Johnson on the other flank, the Spaniard’s ability to get forward and attack from his left-back berth against Stoke on Saturday will play a huge part in how the home team fare.
However, Enrique being Enrique, expect the left-back to spend more time in the opposition half than his own.
Great Dane: Will Agger still be a Liverpool player come the start of September, though?
The Reds’ newly appointed vice-captain has been the subject of much interest from Spanish champions Barcelona of late, says Dominic King of the Daily Mail, which could see the Dane depart the club after seven successful years on Merseyside.
However, any potential deal to take Daniel Agger to Camp Nou will not be completed before the start of the new Premier League season, meaning that Rodgers will be able to select his ball-playing centre-back against Stoke, with the 28-year-old sure to have a stiff neck at the end of this contest.
Plenty to shout about: Toure appears to have won the race to be Agger's partner at the back next season
The Ivorian has surprisingly won Rodgers’ vote to partner Agger at the back at Anfield next season after a string of impressive displays at the heart of the Liverpool defence during preseason, combined with the continued doubts surrounding the Reds future of unsettled central defender Martin Skrtel, according to Football-Italia.
And it will be interesting to see how the veteran gets on going forward in his new partnership alongside the Denmark international, especially now that aged 32, his previous lightning-quick pace that often got him out of trouble positionally has somewhat disappeared.
Liverpool's Welsh Xavi in action during preseason
With the Wales international now fully recovered from the shoulder problem that necessitated corrective surgery last March, and so bringing about a premature end to the 23-year-old’s season, much is expected of Joe Allen at Anfield in the new campaign.
However, seemingly refreshed and revitalised after a four-month layoff, the holding-midfield player turned in a number of eye-catching displays in front of the Liverpool back four during preseason.
And if Allen can also start contributing more near the opposition goal, starting against the Potters, then the player can soon begin to finally live up to his manager’s Xavi Hernandez comparisons—as reported by Steve Millar in the Daily Star—as well next season.
The Reds' Mr Dependable: Brazil midfield player Lucas
Liverpool’s Mr Dependable and an absolutely vital cog in how Rodgers sets his teams up to play, partnering Allen as he does at the base of the Reds midfield, Lucas Leiva is adept at putting out fires, as well as setting in motion counterattacks by breaking up opponents’ forward thrusts.
But against Stoke, the Brazilian will be expected to play much further forward whenever he gets the chance, while also making good use of the large amounts of possession that he is sure to have.
Leading from the front: Gerrard will once again be skippering Liverpool next season
Captain Fantastic will be itching to make an immediate impact on the new season, preferably with a winning goal or two against Stoke. With Rodgers set to position his inspirational midfield player in a more advanced role this season than he was often deployed in the previous campaign, Steven Gerrard will have every chance of achieving that feat.
And despite the fact that the England international is now 33, do not expect for one second a lessening of the work-rate, driving runs or devastating shooting from distance that we have come to expect from Gerrard down the years.
Samba Magic: Coutinho has been in eye-catching form for the Reds so far this summer
Liverpool’s chief source of creative inspiration since arriving at the club from Inter Milan at the turn of the year, Coutinho will again shoulder much responsibility for being the main catalyst for the Reds’ attacking forays against the Potters on Saturday.
However, if the 21-year-old’s sensational displays so far this summer are anything to by, then Hughes’ side could be in for a chastening afternoon at Anfield this weekend.
An eye for goal: but Liverpool will be hoping Sterling can forget about his off-pitch distractions against Stoke on Saturday
Despite being arrested and charged with assault late on Thursday night following an alleged incident involving his girlfriend, Rodgers is still expected to select the 18-year-old wide man for the Premier League opener on Saturday.
And if the exciting England international can put his off-field troubles to the back of his mind for the 90 minutes against Stoke and carry on in the same attacking vein that he demonstrated throughout much of the preseason programme, then the Potters’ left-back may have his hands full keeping Sterling quiet.
All-round game: Aspas has already proved his worth so far this summer following his arrival from Celta Vigo
What a start to his Liverpool career the diminutive Spaniard has made, scoring long-range curlers, simple tap-ins and setting up goals for teammates too, so much so that the ongoing worry over the ankle injury sustained by first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge in May has slowly started to dissipate this summer.
As a result, Rodgers will now feel far more confident about giving the England forward more time to recover from his problem by starting the Stoke encounter on the bench, while Aspas gets given the nod to lead the line on what will be his competitive debut at Anfield.
And it should be a great occasion for the 26-year-old, and one he will be desperate to crown with a winner in front of the Kop.
A striking talent: but Sturridge may not be fit enough to start against the Potters on Saturday
GK: Brad Jones
CB: Sebastian Coates
RB/CB: Andre Wisdom
RB/CB: Martin Kelly
MF: Jordan Henderson
MF: Luis Alberto
CF: Daniel Sturridge
CF: Fabio Borini