When Liverpool meet Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, they will be looking to continue their impressive season-opening form. The Reds have taken seven points in their first three games and have looked dangerous in attack and strong in defense.
That said, they are not at the top of the league. They lie in third, in fact, two places off where they want to be. There is only one way to get there, and that is to win every game possible and watch the ones ahead buckle under the pressure.
That is why Liverpool must beat Stoke City.
The term "must win" is a bad one, because at Liverpool's level, every time you fail to take three points it could cost you. Liverpool have already lost two points too many.
This is a free, fool-proof method for Kenny Dalglish and his staff to use to guarantee victory against Stoke at the Britannia.
Since Kenny Dalglish took over in January, Liverpool have clearly displayed the importance of scoring first. In the 3-1 victory over Bolton, Jordan Henderson opened the scoring in the 15th minute, and the team went on to secure a comfortable victory. In the midweek Carling Cup match proceeding that game, Luis Suarez scored in the 23rd minute, and again the Reds would complete an easy win.
When you fail to score first, you are forced to play catch-up. When you fail to score in the first half, you are put under pressure coming out of the break, and you stop playing your game. History shows that when you score early, further goals will inevitably follow. An early goal means victory.
Stoke have built upon the most solid defensive corps in the league, with Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate leading the pack. It wouldn't at all be surprising to see them field five in the back, essentially choking any space in their own half and forcing Liverpool to retreat.
There is one way to counter that: attack with several players. Luis Suarez will lead the offenses most of the time. They key is to back him up. Failure to do so will leave him outnumbered and outmatched, and before you know it, the ball is back in your own half.
If Liverpool can get players forward and be smart with the ball, it will only be a matter of time before the Stoke defense is broken down.
Ignoring who your favourite player is, you'd have a hard time arguing that Luis Suarez isn't Liverpool's finest. The 24-year-old Uruguayan is one of the Premier League's fastest, most dynamic and most lethal players, and the Liverpool attack revolves around him. Dalglish has clearly built a team that is meant to be an offensive force, and if Suarez has a quiet game, the whole team will, too.
Steven Gerrard's return from a long-term injury is only going to make Suarez more prolific. That, however, won't be for another week. Suarez will once again have to carry the team on his back against Stoke. If he does, nothing stands in the Reds' way.
With their wealth of elite central midfielders, the Reds have countless formation options and tactics they could use. The 4-2-3-1 is a well-rounded, offensive-defensive formation that fits the Liverpool squad and its players well. As a manager, it is Dalglish's job to find a fitting setup on the field. The 4-2-3-1 is a lineup that could be handmade for Liverpool star players, and at the end of the day, those are the men you have to build around. They are the key to success. They are the key to victory.
Kelly - Coates - Agger - Jose Enrique
Adam - Lucas
Kuyt - Suarez - Downing
When Steven Gerrard comes back from his injury, Suarez will move up to take Carroll's spot and Gerrard will step in and support him from behind.
While it is unclear whether or not Liverpool's £8 million signing will be in the Starting XI against Stoke, he is just the kind of player who will be effective against a team like them. The Reds should strongly consider using him. Tony Pulis has built a team that is intimidating up front to say the least. Dalglish will need to field a strong defense that will be able to stand up against the big Stoke attack.
Jonathan Walters - 6'0"
Cameron Jerome - 6'1"
Kenwyne Jones - 6'2"
Ricardo Fuller - 6'3"
Mamady Sidibe - 6'4"
Peter Crouch - 6'7"
The aerial game will continue to grow into Stoke's key to success, and Liverpool could very easily get outmatched at the back. Dalglish best option is to leave Jamie Carragher out of the team and field a centre back pairing with Daniel Agger (6'3") alongside either Martin Skrtel (6'3") or Sebastian Coates (6'6"). That said, because of the sheer size of whichever strike pairing Stoke fields, it wouldn't be surprising to see Dalglish send out Coates to try to counter the aerial force that Stoke attack with.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @jacobware95