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Sunday 20 August 2017

Hughes: Big burden will weigh on Reds

Stoke boss compares Liverpool title drought to United's

Stoke boss Mark Hughes is playing mind games with Liverpool ahead of their visit to Anfield today. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes is playing mind games with Liverpool ahead of their visit to Anfield today. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Liverpool's players will be feeling the burden of the weight of expectation as the club looks to end its long wait for a league title, according to Stoke boss Mark Hughes

Hughes, who takes his team to Anfield on tonight, was part of the Manchester United side that became champions for the first time in 26 years in 1993.

It was the first of Alex Ferguson's 13 Premier League titles, coming seven years into his reign at Old Trafford, and the first step towards his aim of "knocking Liverpool off their perch" as England's most successful club.

At the time it was United's eighth title and it seemed unthinkable that Liverpool's 18th crown in 1990 would be their last. But under Ferguson, United usurped their north west rivals and currently stand alone with 20 league championships to Liverpool's 18 titles.

Should Liverpool go on to win the Premier League this season, it will end a 27-year wait and Hughes recalled what it was like when he was going through the same thing at United.

Asked if the players were aware, he said: "Oh yes. Every year. And it's more difficult, every year it keeps perpetuating it becomes more difficult.

"Certainly when I was at United it was talked about before the season, during the season, at the end and if if you hadn't done it then it was debated again in a negative way. It was always there.

"That's maybe why, being part of that team and being able to do that, that team is remembered and revered a little bit because we were able to break that long line of difficulty of winning the league championship.

"It was about making your mark on the game and being part of that. That enabled a lot of us to make our mark at United because it had taken a lot of good teams who found it very difficult clearly."

Hughes added: "Do I think Liverpool can do it? Yes, they're capable without a doubt and they have the potential to win it.

"Liverpool will feel this is a good opportunity to get rid of that weight and have a period of success like they had in the 80s and early 90s.

"They seem to have the belief they can and it seems a really positive club again."

Ibrahim Afellay is set to make his long-awaited return to the Stoke squad.

Marko Arnautovic is suspended and Phil Bardsley and Geoff Cameron (both knee) remain out while Jack Butland looks set for a prolonged spell on the sidelines following another operation to get to the bottom of his ankle problem.

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has already made plans to offset the loss of leading scorer Sadio Mane next month and is confident someone in his squad will step up to fill the void.

The Senegal forward, who has eight goals this season, will be available for the next three matches - at home to Stoke and Manchester City and away at Sunderland - before he joins up with his national team for the African Nations Cup in Gabon.

"Sadio's away and we have to find solutions. They can be, under very specific circumstances, in the transfer market, but if not then they are in the squad," Klopp said.

The Reds boss is used to a winter break in Germany, but he would not want to have one at this point with his side in the form they are.

"The good thing with having no break is you don't feel like you need a break," he added.

"So in Germany it was always like, 'Two weeks to go and then we have a break', but here nobody is in this mood."

"Everybody's on fire, we are all on the track, and that's a really good thing."

Tuesday will see the return to Anfield of Joe Allen for the first time since he left in the summer.

The Wales midfielder could not hold down a regular place under Klopp despite some influential performances but the Liverpool boss has no regrets about allowing him to leave as it was for the player's benefit.

"Do we miss Joe Allen? Yes. Nice guy, unbelievably strong player, but it was kind of a common decision," he said.

"We had some conversations and it was what I could guarantee, not that Joe Allen asked me, 'How many games will I play?'

"But it was clear after the last one, two years not being a fixed player all the time.

"We all knew about his quality and when you see him playing now we are all really happy for him that he scores that many goals and he has had this big impact for Stoke.

"That's how it is in life. You can't have everything. We couldn't have everything.

"I'm not sure that it would have been that easy for him (here) - it's not that he doesn't have the quality, but it's about having one option more or not and using it for this or that system.

"He plays a little bit more offensive (for Stoke) than he probably would have played for us. Joe Allen is for sure an outstanding player. I would say we need to keep an eye on him."

Liverpool v Stoke City, today, live sky sports 1 (KO 5.15)

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