At the conclusion of the 2014-15 Premier League season, Stoke City and Liverpool were clubs going in two separate directions. The Potters were finishing off their best performance ever in the Premier League while Liverpool were simply playing out the season after falling short of the UEFA Champions League.
The teams met on the final day of the season at the Britannia Stadium and the Potters embarassed Liverpool, winning 6-1 after 5 first half goals. In a cruel twist of fate orchestrated by the league’s schedule-makers, the two teams will meet this Sunday to open their 2015-16 campaigns. For Stoke, the goal in 2015-16 is certainly to qualify for Europe, whether through league performance, or a stunning cup run.
Manager Mark Hughes has made smart changes to his squad, and though the Potters lose goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to Chelsea and midfielder Steven N’Zonzi to Spanish club Sevilla, Stoke have built a squad that should compete for a top 6 spot in the league. With that said, here’s a look at the projected lineup for the Potters this weekend against Liverpool:
Goalkeeper: Jack Butland
With the departure of Begovic, 22-year old Jack Butland moves into the role of first team keeper for the Potters. Butland captained the England u-21’s at this Summer’s European championships, and is one of the top young keepers in the country. Butland started for Stoke and kept clean sheets against both Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur near the end of last season, and has proved himself as an able keeper
Defenders: Phil Bardsley, Marc Muniesa, Phillip Wollscheid, Erik Pieters
Stoke’s captain Ryan Shawcross will miss out on this match after it was announced that he will undergo back surgery and is expected to miss around two months of action. Muniesa, the young Spaniard will slide into the backline alongside the German Wollscheid who joined the Potters in the middle of last season.
Stoke has strong depth at both left and right back, with new signing Glenn Johnson joining Geoff Cameron as players capable of playing on the outside, but on Sunday expect to see Bardsley and Pieters line up on the outside of the defense.
Midfielders: Glenn Whelan, Marko Van Ginkel, Ibrahim Afellay, Marko Arnautovic
Stoke City are anxiously awaiting the return of former Barcelona man Bojan, who is recovering from ACL surgery, and was incredibly impressive in a playmaking role last season. There’s a chance that Bojan could start Sunday, but expect Mark Hughes to use Bojan only as a substitute this weekend in an attempt to prevent the Spaniard from picking up a further injury.
There was some question about Arnautovic’s health, but it looks as though the Austrian will be able to make the start against Liverpool. Marko Van Ginkel moved on loan to Stoke from Chelsea in the Begovic deal, and much is expected of the 22-year old who spent his last two years playing for A.C. Milan on loan from the Blues. Ibrahim Afellay continues the Barcelona-to-Stoke connection, and if the Dutch winger can stay healthy, he could play a big role in Stoke’s success this year.
Forwards: Jonathan Walters, Joselu
At the age of 31, Walters is as much of a known quantity that exists in the Premier League. He won’t wow you with his speed or athleticism, but he has strong instincts and is valuable as a goal poacher near the top of the formation. Expect to see the 25-year old Spaniard Joselu to start up top for Stoke. The former Real Madrid man scored 8 goals in 28 starts for Hanover 96 in the Budesliga. If Stoke need a goal late in the match, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Peter Crouch come off the bench for the final 15-20 minutes.
Prediction: It would be unwise to expect Stoke to score 6 goals again on Liverpool, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Potters win this match. Stoke have built a strong side, one that should have their fans extremely excited for the upcoming season. The wise move would be to predict a draw here (1-1 or 2-2 most likely) but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Peter Crouch grabs a late goal to give the Potters a 2-1 win.
Via Lineup Builder