Preview: Stoke v Liverpool, Carling Cup

WHEN Liverpool were involved in the Champions League it’s safe to say that the League Cup wasn’t a top priority for The Reds. Liverpool had a squad that contained a mixture of abilities in each position and attempts to get multiple top class players in each of those positions were often scuppered by the financial situation at the club. With League Cup games coming in gaps in the European schedule, with either league matches or international breaks either side, the best or most experienced players would be given a rest on League Cup nights.

When Rafa Benitez got Liverpool to the final in his first year at the club it seemed to be a policy that could work, but in the years that followed it would often be when the Reds were drawn against fellow top-flight opposition that progress was halted. Last season, under Roy Hodgson, it was fourth division Northampton that ended the club’s run in the competition.

This season there is no European football for the Reds, instead Liverpool having the luxury of being able to arrange friendlies in Scotland, meaning Kenny Dalglish is perhaps able to take the competition more seriously than his predecessors. The League Cup is still less of a priority than the league, undoubtedly, but far higher a priority than it has been for some time. It’s a chance to win a trophy and a strong side is likely to turn out tonight at what has become a bogey ground, the Britannia Stadium, against Stoke.

Dirk Kuyt sees it as a chance to win his first trophy for Liverpool: “In all my time as a Liverpool player I have been close to winning trophies. There was the Champions League final, the semi-final and also coming second in the Premier League. We know we have the squad to do well. Not being involved in Europe this season is a major blow so the Carling Cup is a great trophy to win because we’re all desperate for silverware.”

Liverpool trounced Stoke 8-0 at this ground, in this competition, in 2000 but have failed to win any of the four games they’ve played there since, all of which were in the league. Stoke won the league game last month and although Kuyt doesn’t expect this game to be anything like a walkover he feels Liverpool can break that hoodoo: “This is one of the hardest games in the league. They are very strong, but we can be a strong, physical team as well and if we create as many chances as we have been, we will be happy.”

Jay Spearing signed a new contract for Liverpool at the tail end of last season but has had very little playing time this term. Tonight might see him given a chance to stake a claim for a regular place but with Kenny taking the competition as seriously as he is even this game might not see Jay back involved again. He did play in earlier rounds but the opposition tonight could lead to Kenny taking a different view of how to approach his team selection.

Liverpool’s new signings and Steven Gerrard’s comeback from injury mean Jay’s place in the pecking order has dropped somewhat. Injuries might give him the opportunities, if games like this don’t, and he knows he’s got to make the most of those chances when they come: “It’s been a mixed season for me so far, he said, “with the new players that have come in I haven’t had as many chances as I’d have liked, but at the end of the day it’s down to me to keep working hard every day in training and show the manager I deserve a chance when the time comes.

“I have to look at the positive side of things. The boss has put me on the bench for every Premier League game so far and I have played in the Carling Cup games, so I can’t complain about that. I’ve got to do everything I can in training to show the boss I am ready if he needs me to play against Stoke. If I do get the chance to play it will be a massive game for me.”

Jay isn’t Liverpool’s tallest player but doesn’t see that as a problem for him against Stoke: “They have a lot of six-foot plus lads in their team and it’s a chance for me to show that I can be put up against anyone, of stature and size, whoever, and do a good job for the team.”

Lucas missed the draw with Norwich on Saturday due to suspension but is available again tonight for what is pretty much a full-strength squad for Kenny to choose from. Craig Bellamy did tire during Saturday’s game and may make way for Andy Carroll, with Dirk Kuyt either dropping back or missing out. Daniel Agger could return to the starting line-up.

The game isn’t going to be shown live on TV in the UK, but will be available to viewers in the US via FoxSoccerTV

To access FoxSoccerTV from the UK sign up for a US VPN from which will not only give access to the football but also to other sports and entertainment sites and content normally restricted to visitors based in the US.