Put aside the Luis Suarez drama, folks—we've got some actual soccer to play, with Liverpool and Stoke City opening the Premier League season.
Sure, Suarez has dominated the headlines with his transfer saga, but he was always going to be suspended for the six games anyway, which means Liverpool will have a chance to prove they aren't a one-man side right out of the gate.
Meanwhile, new manager Mark Hughes will hope to sneak Stoke City into a top-10 place on the table this year—and hopefully, install a brand of football that is more than the slightly technical version of rugby Stoke have played in recent years.
The Premier League season is upon us, folks—let's break down Saturday's first game.
When: Saturday, August 17 at 7:45 a.m. ET (12:45 p.m. BST)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Watch: NBC Sports Network
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra
What They're Saying
Actually, this section will be about what they aren't saying. As in, what Brendan Rodgers isn't saying about Suarez, which is anything at all.
Here are Rodgers' most recent comments, via BBC Sport:
I won't be speaking any more about Luis Suarez until he is available [again from suspension]. What I want to concentrate on is the players that are available for this weekend.
There has been so much written about Luis and said over the last few months. From our perspective there is a standpoint from the club and myself that has not changed. What I want to concentrate on is the players that are available for this weekend. Purely out of respect to them and the work which has been going on, I only want to talk about them.
In a summer which has been dominated by the Suarez transfer saga, it's probably safe to say everyone could use a break from Suarez talk.
Liverpool Player to Watch: Philippe Coutinho
There are few players who will be monitored more closely this season than Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, and for good reason—after joining the Reds last January, he was nothing short of spectacular.
In 13 appearances with the club, he scored three goals and added five assists, and he often dazzled in the process. He's arguably Liverpool's most important player this season no matter what ultimately transpires with Suarez, and big things are expected this year.
Expect him to give the Stoke City defense headaches for the full 90 minutes.
Stoke City Player to Watch: Asmir Begovic
Asmir Begovic was Stoke City's best player a season ago, and with a new manager and system in place—and a tough task against a dangerous Liverpool side—he'll need to reprise that role right off the bat this season.
Generally speaking, when a keeper is a team's key to the game, that team comes in as the underdog. And Liverpool have a pretty scary attack even without Suarez, so Begovic will be tested. He'll need to make a few highlight-reel saves for Stoke City in this one.
Liverpool Will Win If...
They can turn an advantage in possession into continuous pressure on the Stoke goal and hit the nylon more than once.
Daniel Sturridge, Iago Aspas, Steven Gerrard and Coutinho prove that Suarez isn't the only Liverpool player who can score goals.
They don't get sucked into a physical, sloppy game that Stoke will surely try to play.
Stoke City Will Win If...
They suck Liverpool into a physical, sloppy game.
A back four highlighted by new additions in Marc Muniesa and Erik Pieters, along with keeper Begovic, play like a brick wall and frustrate Liverpool's defenders.
They score an early goal and put the pressure on Liverpool immediately.
Liverpool have looked good this preseason and shouldn't have too much rust to kick off the tires. That's bad news for an overmatched Stoke team that doesn't have the firepower to stick with the Reds. Plus, Stoke is much more dangerous at home, while this game is at Anfield.
Liverpool wins, 1-0.
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