Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool 4-1 Stoke: Lallana, Firmino and Sturridge help give Potters a seasonal stuffing

Liverpool warmed up for their mouthwatering clash against top-four rivals Manchester City later this week with a confident 4-1 win over Stoke.

Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino turned things around in the first half after Jon Walters' opener before a Giannelli Imbula own goal and Daniel Sturridge's first in the Premier League this season, 56 seconds after coming off the bench, wrapped things up.

They moved back into second ahead of City, who visit on Saturday, to maintain the six-point gap with leaders Chelsea.

Pep Guardiola's side will not relish their New Year's Eve trip to Anfield to face a team who have now scored 100 league goals during Jurgen Klopp's 48 matches, equalling the record set by Kenny Dalglish.

Liverpool have scored 86 league goals in 2016, their most in a calendar year since 1989, and have 40 points from their opening 18 matches for only the second time in the Premier League era.

Their ability to score at home - half of their eight Anfield league matches have produced four goals or more - is why this weekend's visit of City is so highly anticipated.

However, Klopp had warned the Stoke fixture - sandwiched between the Merseyside derby and City - was not to be under-estimated and boyhood Everton fan Walters' sixth league goal in 12 appearances against the Reds proved that.

Stoke's record at Anfield is the worst in the Premier League, having not won in 1959 and scored only two goals since 1983, but Walters set about changing that as he nipped in front of Dejan Lovren to catch Simon Mignolet unawares with a near-post header which the goalkeeper got a hand to but could not keep out.

Mignolet did much better when former Reds midfielder Joe Allen created space for himself inside the penalty area, the Belgium international parrying the shot far enough away from the waiting Peter Crouch.

That was the signal for Liverpool to come out of their post-Christmas slumber with Crouch clearing Firmino's shot off the line but there was no-one to fall back on when Lallana, via a deflection from another ex-Red Glen Johnson, swept home from the narrowest of angles.

Firmino, who was charged with drink-driving on Christmas Eve, added the second a minute before the break via both posts having blazed over a good chance while Mane, who had tormented Bruno Martins Indi for the first goal, scuffed a shot wide of the upright.

Mane played a part in Liverpool's third on the hour, if only to put Imbula under pressure, but it was Jordan Henderson's pass inside Johnson to feed Origi which created the chance.

Sturridge's arrival with 20 minutes ago produced the fourth when Ryan Shawcross sent a blind backpass straight to the England striker, who confidently rounded goalkeeper Lee Grant before netting.

Important win ahead of City clash

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised his side for taming a "wild" game at home to Stoke.

The visitors were the better side early on and went ahead through Jon Walters, but Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino scored before half-time before Giannelli Imbula's own goal and Daniel Sturridge's first in the Premier League this season 56 seconds after coming off the bench wrapped things up.

"Confidence is not a problem of the team at the moment. We know about our quality, but obviously we don't show it all the time," said Klopp.

"The start of the game was really difficult because the plan of Stoke was to press really high, especially with the two strikers.

"We were not patient enough in our passing game, we could have done more.

"It became a wild game and when they had the ball it was immediately in the air.

"Peter Crouch did outstanding work, he was really difficult to defend, and Joe Allen was brilliant with the second balls in the beginning.

"A lot of things we could have done better, but we forced two goals with our quality.

"At 2-1 we could adjust at half-time, we spoke about a few things.

"We scored a wonderful third goal and then Daniel closed the game. That was really important."

The win lifted Liverpool above Manchester City - the visitors to Anfield on New Year's Eve - and back into second place.

City boss Pep Guardiola was at Anfield to witness Liverpool's win and Klopp knows the build-up to Saturday's encounter between the top-four rivals starts now.

"I respect them a lot, but I have not been to City's stadium this season or last to watch games. Maybe they want to watch good football, ha ha," he said.

"We are already looking forward. It's a difficult game for both teams, but an exciting one. The best news for us is that it's at Anfield.

"They're an outstanding side, we are not too bad. It'll be a nice game.

"Whatever I say tonight, we cannot win it tonight. But maybe I could say a few things that make it more difficult for us. It's probably best I shut my mouth."

Stoke boss Mark Hughes felt his side would have deserved more from the game, had it not been for a couple of defensive lapses.

"We haven't defended correctly which is a shame," he said.

"We came here with a good game plan and for the most part we caused them real problems in the first half and they didn't really deal with it well.

"We deservedly took the lead, but the disappointment is we allowed them back into the game just before half-time.

"We made a mistake on the first goal and at that point we needed to see the half out, but we have been passive on the edge of the box and we've allowed another shot.

"We've gone in at 2-1 down feeling a little hard done by.

"We made a couple of individual errors on the next two goals and it is very difficult to come back from that."

Match preview

Liverpool will hope to close the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea when they take on Stoke at Anfield the day after Boxing Day as the Christmas cheer comes to Merseyside.

With Chelsea playing on Boxing Day, the Blues have the chance to restore their nine-point lead at the top, but Jurgen Klopp will have his sights on reeling in the London side in the battle for the Premier League title.

Liverpool will still be without influential midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who remains injured and is hoping to return for the New Year's Eve encounter with Manchester City, but Daniel Sturridge is in contention to start after providing the assist for Sadio mane’s winning goal in the Merseyside derby last Monday.

Klopp has revealed that he is unlikely to strengthen in the January transfer window unless someone of high quality becomes available for the right fee, and reported transfer target Julian Draxler has already moved elsewhere after agreeing a deal to join Paris Saint-Germain from Wolfsburg.

Stoke meanwhile are continuing their surge up the Premier League table after a difficult start, and Mark Hughes’s side can move into the top half of the table for the first time this season if they pull off a shock victory on Tuesday.

Here’s everything you need to know about the match.

What time does it start?

Liverpool vs Stoke kicks off at 17:15 on Tuesday 27 December.

Where can I watch it?

The match will be shown live on Sky Sports 1 from 17:00.

It’s a big game for...

Roberto Firmino: The striker struggles when Philippe Coutinho is not in the side, and with the Brazilian in a race against time to be fit for the clash with City next week, he’s already been ruled out of the visit of Stoke. The forward has not scored or provided an assist in the four games that he’s played without Coutinho in the side this season, and has a point to prove that he is not dependent on Coutinho being in the side.

Player to look out for...

Joe Allen: The Wales midfielder faces his ormer side for the first time after leaving them in the summer, and he has found his feet at Stoke to enjoy his best season to date in the top flight, scoring five league goals and providing two assists. Klopp has spoken this week to admit his side are missing Allen’s qualities in the middle of the park, and the midfielder will want to show the German why he was wrong to let him leave Anfield.

Confirmed teams:

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Origi. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Can, Ejaria, Woodburn

Stoke: Grant; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Diouf, Allen, Whelan, Imbula, Walters; Crouch.

Form...

Liverpool: WWDLWW

Stoke: LWWLDD

Past three meetings...

Liverpool 4 (Moreno, Sturridge, Origi 2) Stoke 1 (Bojan), Premier League, April 2016

Liverpool 0 Stoke 1 (Arnautovic), Capital One Cup, January 2016

Stoke 0 Liverpool 1 (Ibe), Capital One Cup, January 2016

Odds...

Liverpool to win: 31/100

Stoke to win: 10/1

Draw: 24/5

(Odds provided by 888 Sport)

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