Mark Hughes' Stoke travel to Anfield. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle, while Alan Thompson provides the betting lowdown...
"Stoke might revert to the old-school Stoke style, with plenty of long balls up to their central striker"
Liverpool v Stoke
Live on Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Liverpool 1.331/3, Stoke 12.011/1, The Draw 6.05/1.
Liverpool sneaked a last-minute victory over Everton last time out, but Jurgen Klopp will hope for a more dominant display against Stoke. The Potters have caused the Reds some problems in recent years, so this could be a trickier contest than it might appear on paper.
Klopp will presumably rotate over the festive period, but there are unlikely to be major changes from the side which overcame Everton. There's a slight exception in defence, where Joel Matip will return if fully fit - Ragnar Klavan hasn't looked particularly convincing so far - and there's also a chance Daniel Sturridge might return upfront. He made a good impact as a substitute at Goodison Park whereas Divock Origi was quiet and eventually pushed to the left flank so Roberto Firmino could play through the middle. Sturridge remains something of an outsider in this Liverpool team, but being able to introduce a player of his calibre shouldn't be underestimated.
Simon Mignolet will continue in goal after two clean sheets, with Loris Karius on the bench.
Mark Hughes has a few players unavailable, the most significant being left-winger Marko Arnautovic, who is suspended. Hughes has tried some experimental team selections in recent weeks, but against this Arsenal side will probably pick a solid, structured starting XI.
Jon Walters seems likely to lead the line. He's often played well against Liverpool, hitting two goals against them on Boxing Day four years ago, and is the type of hard-working, physical striker who could cause Dejan Lovren problems. There's a chance he could start on the right flank, where he'd be up against makeshift left-back James Milner, but Mame Biram Diouf seems more likely to get the nod there. Although fundamentally a centre-forward, he's impressed with his defensive work rate this season and would track Milner's runs reliably. Xherdan Shaqiri was dropped for the 2-2 draw against Leicester, and might struggle to get back into the side for this one.
Stoke might revert to the old-school Stoke style, with plenty of long balls up to their central striker. That was Everton's approach to beat Liverpool's aggressive press, and it was broadly successful in the first half.
Bojan Krkic might be in for a start from the left flank here, while Joe Allen is back at his old club and probably playing at the top of the midfield trio. Allen has performed well this season and proved a surprise goal threat, but it's often been difficult for Hughes to work out where to accommodate him. At Anfield, against a heavy pressing side, he probably needs two midfielders behind him.
Gianelli Imbula will definitely start, but it would be a surprise to see Charlie Adam alongside him - he struggled massively in the recent defeat at Arsenal and simply doesn't have the mobility required for a contest against a heavy pressing side. Glen Whelan, a more intelligent central midfielder, would be a better choice.
Stoke's defence should play narrow against this Liverpool side, with both Firmino and Sadio Mane drifting inside to become, in effect, bonus strikers. Glen Johnson does that well, but Erik Pieters tends to play wider and Mane might sneak inside into goalscoring positions. The Senegalese forward netted the winner against Everton and might be the best bet to open the scoring here, at around 7.26/1.
Liverpool are understandably strong favourites here, although there are a couple of question marks about the format of their front trio in the absence of Coutinho. The Everton performance suggested Liverpool weren't quite firing on all cylinders, and Stoke might prove difficult to break down.
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
After two away wins to keep within six points of leaders Chelsea, Liverpool have two home games to see out 2016, and this should be the easier of the two with Manchester City paying a visit on New Year’s Eve. Despite only winning two of their away days (Watford 1-0 and Hull City 2-0), Stoke City have collected nine of their 21 away from the Britannia.
Jurgen Klopp’s men certainly left it late to beat their neighbours last time out when Sadio Mane struck the winner deep into stoppage time at Goodison Park. Liverpool (along with Spurs) are the only sides to remain unbeaten at home and I don’t see that stat changing in this game.
Mark Hughes would have been raging after his side let a two-goal lead slip against a ten-man Leicester side last time out at the Britannia. That defeat leaves Stoke without a win in their last three starts and with their next two games at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, it may not be a very merry Christmas for the Potters.
No one has scored more than Liverpool’s 21 home goals and only Manchester United have managed to keep them out at Anfield. So far when they have faced bottom half sides they have put six past Watford, five past Hull and four past Leicester so Stoke could be in for a torrid time.
Stoke have only failed to score when on the road at Goodison this campaign and Liverpool have only kept two clean sheets at home against Sunderland and Manchester United. I’ll take a chance that that Potters will at least get on the score sheet but ultimately I don’t see Liverpool losing.
I will be backing Liverpool/Yes in the Match Odds/Both Teams to Score market at 2.87 on the Sportsbook.