Liverpool FC: Stoke City Scouting Report and How the Reds Can Win

Kevin SteeleContributor IIISeptember 6, 2011

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool competes with Danny Higginbotham of Stoke City during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield on February 2, 2011 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

As Liverpool looks to continue their run of good form coming out of the international break, they may face their toughest challenge yet in Tony Pulis's Stoke City.

While the Potters don't have mesmerizing creative players, they more than make up for it in grit and toughness.

Here's a look at the side the Reds will face this weekend and how they can leave Britannia Stadium with three points.  


Stoke Defense vs. Liverpool Forwards

Strong, resolute defending is the hallmark of Stoke City's brand of football.

In three league matches this season, the Potters have conceded only one goal, a set piece header scored by Norwich City. Their defensive dominance includes a 0-0 home draw against title contenders Chelsea, so their ability isn't only shown against the minnows in the top flight.  

The centerpiece of the Stoke back line is center back (and skipper) Ryan Shawcross. At only 22 years of age, Shawcross is a great talent who has been capped by Fabio Capello and has a bright future ahead of him.

At 6'3'', he provides a great aerial presence, which is a common thread for Stoke's squad.  

The first choice pairing with Shawcross at the center of defense is summer signing Jonathan Woodgate, who has been absolutely fantastic for his new side after injuries prevented him from finding success at Tottenham.  

Incidentally, the shortest first choice defender for Stoke at six feet tall, Woodgate has shown that when not bitten by the injury bug, he can be a solid contributor who can put out many fires.  

With fullbacks that are in the mold of center backs as well, (Robert Huth and Marc Wilson are both over 6'2'') it is evident that the back line is not particularly adventurous, and looks to rely on size and strength over speed.  

Since the defense stays compact and well organized, it will be crucial for Liverpool to bring their best pass-and-move game to the match. It would be playing right into Stoke's hands to play Andy Carroll and hope to win the aerial battles, so it should be expected to see a similar front four as the past few matches: Suarez, Kuyt (or perhaps Craig Bellamy), Henderson, and Downing.

This group of players could result in attempts to stretch play to the wings and get Stoke's defenders out of their element, or swift passing moves in the box to elude the hulking back line of the Potters.  


The Midfield Battle

Stoke's midfield generally uses two central players who are defensively-minded, as well as two wingers who move forward.

Among the common selections in the center of midfield, the most notable player is Irishman Rory Delap. While he doesn't have many skills on the ground, he has a solid work rate and is renowned for his long-throw ability. Given the immense height advantage that Stoke has over most other sides, his throws into the box create both havoc and goals.  

Along the wings, the usual suspects are Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant. While these two aren't going to do a great job of creating chances for themselves, they are good at crossing the ball onto the heads of big target men.  

Ultimately, the midfield is going to be another wave of bodies that an opposing offense will need to work it's way through before hitting the defense. While the wide players will get forward occasionally, the midfield will not be able to hold onto possession for extensive periods, and will look to blast the ball forward and hope that a striker can get onto it.  

A new component to Stoke's midfield is Wilson Palacios, who could make his debut against Liverpool. He was a solid defensive presence for Spurs last term, and will fit right in with the mentality of his new side.  

For Liverpool, the role of Downing and Henderson is described above, but it will be interesting to see who pairs with Lucas in central midfield if Charlie Adam is still unfit after picking up an injury on international duty.  

If Adam can't play, it may be an opportunity for the Reds to play five purely attack-minded players and only one central midfielder, since Stoke won't pose much of a threat except on the occasional break.

Lucas should be able to handle holding responsibilities alone (though Adam has never been a defensively-minded midfielder anyway).  


Stoke Forwards vs. Liverpool Defense

Aside from Jonathan Walters, who is a hard worker who normally plays behind a center forward, the Stoke attack is all about large target men with heading ability.  

Before the transfer deadline, Kenwyne Jones was the primary center forward, and he scored the point-saving goal at the death against Norwich City last month. Heading into the match against Liverpool, however, the Potters have acquired two new forwards that add quality and depth to the side.

Firstly, Peter Crouch may be on a run of poor form and is only good for tap-ins and headers, but really that is all that Stoke needs. He was never great for Liverpool or Tottenham, but his skill set is perfect for the Potters, and I expect him to be an asset for Stoke whenever he makes his debut.  

The second forward addition was Birmingham's Cameron Jerome, who is another big target, but he also provides some pace, something Stoke as a side lack, let alone up front. A pairing of either Jones or Crouch and Jerome could prove a difficult pairing to stop...if they can get service, of course.  

This sort of the match, one where the biggest threat is through the air, is the perfect one for new signing Sebastian Coates to make his debut. While it remains to be seen when Kenny Dalglish will select the Uruguayan, a pairing of him and Agger would be a fine answer to the size of Stoke's forwards.  

On the wings, Jose Enrique and whoever plays at right back shouldn't have a problem containing Stoke's wing players, as they don't exhibit too much pace and will be highly predictable.  



The most encouraging sign for Liverpool heading into the weekend is Stoke's inability to score goals. They've only managed one each against Norwich and West Brom, and none against Chelsea, so absent a defensive miscue, I don't expect them to score more than one against Liverpool.  

The biggest challenge will be for Liverpool to come up with a goal, but Liverpool's style of attack is perfect to counteract Stoke's defending. Of course, it's never easy to move a parked bus, but with the form Luis Suarez is in, he should  be able to come up with another beautiful piece of play to hit the net for the Reds.

Add in the numerous attacking talents Liverpool have, and the Reds should have no problem coming up with just enough to come away with three points against Stoke.  

Prediction: Liverpool 2, Stoke 1