With their best central defender Joël Matip still out with an ongoing ankle problem, Liverpool may have found his future partner when he does finally return.
Ragnar Klavan handled Romelu Lukaku with ease on Monday night’s victory versus Everton, winning most of his battles against one the league’s deadliest forwards. On last night’s evidence a pairing of Klavan and Matip might convince tipsters that Liverpool are genuine title contenders.
At the start of the season who would have bet that James Milner would emerge as a top left-back? OK, that might be going a bit far, but he was arguably the best player on the pitch against Everton.
And in a team that keeps the ball for longer than any other team apart from Man City, Milner’s ability to recycle possession and find his teammates will always be valuable. He’s a consistent professional, who will never make headlines but plays at a high standard most weeks.
Odds Cut for Title
Nothing builds confidence like a last-minute winner, especially after a hard-fought derby. And it demonstrated Liverpool’s title credentials to the bookies who slashed their odds from 7.50 to 6.50 overnight.
One of the big plusses from their last two wins is the way the squad players have raised their games with Coutinho out until January. Origi made the difference against Middlesbrough, but when he struggled on Monday Daniel Sturridge stepped in and staked his own claim for a starting place up front.
Allen All Right
If there’s one player who will want to sabotage Liverpool’s title hope it’s Joe Allen, who was never a regular in his four seasons at Anfield. With a bit more responsibility at Stoke his talent has shone through, and strangely he’s the Potters’ top scorer this season with five goals.
Also worthy of praise has been Lee Grant, who has saved the Potters’ skin a couple of times. Nobody can fault his contribution, especially considering he was dropped into the side on an emergency loan after Butland got injured.
Indeed Allen has been the clue that’s kept a ragtag collection of talent from falling apart. Imbula, Shaqiri, Arnautović and Bojan are all highly talented footballers. But not one can put more than a couple of good matches together in a row.
It helps make Stoke great fun to watch when everything comes to life. But most weeks these mercurial players are on separate wavelengths and need team-oriented guys like Glenn Whelan and Jonathan Walters to knit things together.
Last Call for Bony
Make no mistake: Wilfried Bony has been awful for Stoke this season. In fact he hasn’t been the same since that move to Manchester City two years ago.
But it’s that time of year when managers need to use the full depth of their squads. And this could be one of Bony’s last chances to make a mark at Stoke as Hughes may consider sending him back to Manchester during the transfer window.
Liverpool vs Stoke Match Prediction
The Reds have come back to the boil and will have too much for a Stoke side whose confidence will be dented from that late equaliser against Leicester. With an eye on the Man City match, Klopp can also afford to call on a couple of the fringe players and not miss a beat.
We’re betting that Liverpool will stroll this one, and very short odds of 1.33 aren’t enough to put us off. Our money is on a 3-0 home win as Liverpool keep Chelsea in their sights.