Eight weeks ago, Daniel Sturridge hobbled down the Goodison Park tunnel with a sprained ankle and with that injury – which kept the striker out for the busy festive period – many thought Liverpool’s chances of winning their first Premier League title were slowly diminishing. Although the Reds have dropped to fourth in the table since then and remain five points adrift of the summit, victory at the Potteries has further underlined their title credentials. And nearly two months on, and with Sturridge back to full fitness, the Reds’ title tilt is gaining momentum once again. The striker resumed where he left off before his lengthy lay-off by reestablishing his formidable partnership with Luis Suarez to torment Stoke’s clueless rearguard. Sturridge provided for the Uruguayan’s second before the favour was returned in the closing stages with devastating results. With Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero all sidelined, you’ll do well to find a better strike force in the Premier League then the one currently at Anfield. Furthermore, Steven Gerrard’s return adds composure and experience to the engine room while offering Brendan Rodgers further options as the business end of the season approaches. Many will feel Liverpool don’t possess the quality and resources that others have at their disposal but with the endeavor they’ve shown to now, they’ll be right up there come the end of the season. One thing is for sure, however, the SAS will cause problems to any defence.
Under Tony Pulis, the Britannia Stadium was one of the most hostile venues in the top-flight. Passionate fans, difficult conditions and tenacious opponents meant very few came away from the Potteries with a victory. And although the passionate fans and severe weather remain, visitors no longer have to endure an intense battle for the points. The defensive vulnerability is indicative of this as both Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson looked all at sea throughout while their firepower up front looks threadbare. Although they scored three here, there is no surprise they find themselves just four points from safety. With a visit to a resurgent Crystal Palace – who are managed by their former boss – next weekend, Stoke need to start picking up points quickly before they get drawn into the relegation dogfight. Firstly, Mark Hughes must arrest their defensive problems. Playing two 6ft-plus centre-halves in full-back positions is damning against teams like Liverpool who have tricky and pacy attackers in their side. Both Erik Pieters and Geoff Cameron were run ragged by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho while there is no creativity going forward without Stephen Ireland. With the transfer window currently open, it might be a wise investment for the owners to give Hughes to permission to recruit a central defender and some fresh blood. By no means are they a side that can be turned over easily but they are a shadow of their former self.
With Theo Walcott sidelined and in-form wingers few and far between, Sterling could be in-line for a place on the plane to Brazil. The speedy winger has been in exceptional form in recent weeks and continued to play an influential role in a Liverpool victory at the Britannia Stadium. His boundless energy caused Pieters no end of problems while he seems to be have found an end product to his game. On more than one occasion he delivered a telling pass to a team-mate while his tireless work paid dividends as he forced the mistake from Wilson before drawing the foul to earn a penalty. With Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend experiencing fluctuating fortunes or also sidelined, there are very few options for Roy Hodgson for out and out wingers. With Sterling excelling after some indifferent performances, there would be little surprise to see him on the plane.
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