Small matters of defence and attack, plus Stoke and a chance for a Red revenge.

So it’s a trip to Stoke tonight for the Carling Cup. A tie that we would normally approach with a degree of indifference unless of course you are one the squad members given a rare run out?

However, tonight is different and in fact the football boot is no the other foot. Stoke now have the ”luxury” of a crowded fixture list complicated by their continued involvement in the Europa League. Perhaps this will be to our advantage tonight and we will see a less than full strength Stoke side? That said I believe we are still perfectly capable of beating them its just every time we visit the Britannia Stadium we seem to lose! The 1-0 defeat earlier this season (click here for match report)book ends nicely with Saturday’s result against Norwich in the sense that we dominated for long periods, carved out plenty of chances but didn’t turn the advantage/good work into three points. A year or so ago we didn’t have the strength in depth up front relying almost totally on Torres however, now it is a different situation with Suarez, Bellamy, Carroll and Kuyt giving us a number of options. Sadly although we are creating chances we, to put it bluntly, need to stick in the back of the net more often. I said in the last post we are too good in this department for this to go on for too long and somewhere, sometime, someone will get a good hiding although I don’t think it will be Stoke tonight.

Of course it doesn’t help if “shyness” in front of goal is backed up by a lack of clean sheets at the back. Louis Enrique has a refreshing if not altogether convincing take on this.

“Clean sheets are important but I don’t care if they score four, if we score five it’s the same. A clean sheet is important but more important is three points.”

Trouble is although we often looked like scoring five this season, so far we haven’t. The margins are slim we have the third “meanest” defence in the league, even allowing for conceding four against Spurs, but have only kept two clean sheets in nine games. Apart from Spurs we’ve conceded one goal in the other six games which has cost against Sunderland, The Mancs, Norwich (all 1-1 draws) and Stoke (a 1-0 defeat). Nonetheless the stats for “chances created” and “goals conceded” suggest we are on the cusp of turning this around?

A clean sheet would be welcome tonight and as would progress. Although we still hold the record for wining this trophy the most times progress, due to “other commitments”, over the last few years or so hasn’t been far. It’s interesting that Stoke have now have Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch in their side. Both played in the Liverpool side under Rafa and I say it’s interesting because although both players had their moments with us the phrase “productive Crouch / Pennant” partnership, where the latter provides the former with the bullets to score, doesn’t exactly spring to mind when recalling their times with us!

Prediction. It goes without saying that Stoke will make a game of it and if past encounters are anything to go by, it will be physical even though I reckon there is more to them now than just that. Team wise we have Lucas back which will help it’s also been suggested that Daniel Agger may start. What other changes Kenny will make is any ones guess. In the report of the league game I said that Stoke will play a lot better and lose and that we will play a lot worse and win. Maybe that will happen tonight however the incentive for us to right the “unluckiness” of this game should be there. I’ll settle for Luis Enrique’s 5-4 scenario but in reality I think it will be tight and may even go all the way. As ever I take us to prevail, would it be any other way, 2-1 to us or 1-1 and a heart stopping penalty shoot out!

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