Liverpool face an early progress test when their second season under Brendan Rodgers kicks off against Stoke on Saturday.
The Merseyside club finished a disappointing seventh last term, but lost just three games in the second half of their Premier League campaign and will hope to extend that form into 2013-14.
Stoke have failed to register a single Premier League goal in five visits to Anfield, but have taken points on three occasions courtesy of 0-0 draws – including in both of the last two seasons.
The challenge they pose to Rodgers’ men this time around will be vastly different, however, following the dismissal of former boss Tony Pulis and arrival of Mark Hughes in his stead.
The Welshman has allowed several stalwarts of the Pulis era to leave, with Rory Delap, Matthew Upson and Dean Whitehead all released upon the expiry of their contracts.
And he has put his own stamp on the squad with the summer acquisitions of Juan Agudelo, Marc Muniesa and Erik Pieters.
Liverpool are also likely to field an unfamiliar line-up, having brought in Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Kolo Toure and Luis Alberto during the transfer window, while Jamie Carragher’s absence is sure to be keenly felt following his retirement.
The hosts will be without Luis Suarez as the striker serves the remainder of his 10-match ban for biting, and have doubts over the fitness of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel ahead of the game, although Rodgers expects the central-defensive duo to be available.
However, Daniel Sturridge is likely to command a starting berth having proven his fitness with a brief friendly appearance against Celtic and a behind-closed-doors outing against Newcastle earlier this week.
And Rodgers has no doubts that the forward can deliver following the ankle injury he sustained while on international duty with England in May.
“He’s worked tirelessly with the medical group. As a team, they’ve got him back. He’s not 100 per cent fit yet, but for me Daniel Sturridge is a player that even if he’s 70 or 80 per cent fit, he’ll be right up there as one of the top strikers,” the manager said.
By contrast, Stoke have just one injury worry ahead of their opening fixture, with Brek Shea sidelined by a leg injury.
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