Stoke City-Liverpool Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) -- For a while there, it almost looked like it was good being Liverpool.
After a disheartening home loss in Europa League, history shows the chances of the Reds regrouping to emerge with three points at Anfield on Sunday versus Stoke City to be quite favourable.
Scrutinised and maligned during a horrific league start under first-year manager Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool (1-2-3) finally broke their league duck on Sept. 29 in emphatic fashion, routing Norwich City 5-2 behind three goals from Luis Suarez and tallies from Nuri Sahin and Steven Gerrard. The five goals exceeded their total from the first four matches combined and vaulted the Reds to 14th in the table, ahead of Aston Villa on goal differential.
That win has been bracketed by a League Cup victory over West Brom and a 3-2 home loss Thursday to Udinese after taking an early lead. With a squad averaging 23.38 years of age in league fixtures - the youngest in the division - following the lead of Suarez and Gerrard, Rodgers thinks his team is starting to find the needed cohesion required to string together some league wins.
"There's a good balance and mix to the team at the moment," Rodgers told the team's official website prior to Thursday's setback. "We've got some outstanding senior players and it's always exciting when you see young players come through."
One such player is teenage midfielder Raheem Sterling, who has been a constant in Rodgers' starting XI in league play and notched his first assist in the victory over the Canaries. The 17-year-old is among the league leaders in fouls suffered and last month earned a call-up to the senior England side.
"Raheem has been brilliant. He's a real good kid who has really stepped into the team and done exceptionally well," the Liverpool boss said. "His performance has been outstanding."
Outstanding is not a word associated with Stoke City's performances at Anfield. Last season's scoreless draw was just the 15th time in 64 all-time matches the Potters (1-4-1) left Merseyside with even a point. They have won just three times there in franchise history and carry a staggering 33-match winless streak (0-4-29) into Liverpool that dates back to 1953.
Additionally, Stoke have failed to score in their last six league matches at Liverpool, a drought that stretches to 1983. Yet the Reds' form dating to last season has them with just one win in their last eight league matches at home, and they've failed to post a clean sheet in any of them.
Stoke City's offence has been an issue this season, but the Potters - like the Reds - ended their winless ways in league play Sept. 29 with a 2-0 victory over Swansea City.
Peter Crouch - again bypassed by Roy Hodgson for England's upcoming World Cup qualifiers - scored both goals in the opening 36 minutes, but central defender and team talisman Ryan Shawcross was among the defenders selected for matches versus San Marino and Poland with the potential of getting his first international cap.
"Shawcross is a player that has impressed me, not only in the past couple of years but certainly the start of this season," Hodgson told the England FA's official website. "He deserves a call-up and a chance to show he can compete with the others."
While Stoke took four of the six points in league play last season, Liverpool ousted the Potters from both cups, advancing at their expense in the sixth round of the FA Cup and fourth round of the League Cup.
Updated October 5, 2012