Liverpool's Aspas controls the ball against Thailand's national team Sokhum during a friendly soccer match in Bangkok

Preview: Liverpool vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke City haven’t won at Anfield since 1959.
  • Of the 10 PL meetings between the two clubs, Liverpool have only managed two wins.
  • Liverpool’s last Opening Day win at home was 2001

As the Premier League season kicks off, Liverpool will host Stoke City, as both clubs eye improvement on last year.

Both clubs experienced disappointing campaigns last season relative to what the clubs are looking to achieve, and the new campaign is an opportunity to erase those failures.

Liverpool, while not a severe disappointment with their seventh place finish last year, still missed out on European competition, and ended up below bitter rivals Everton in the table, which always stings.

Stoke City finished 13th in the league, and while it isn’t a tragic result for a club like Stoke, pretty much everyone 12th and lower were involved in the bitter relegation battle that sucked in almost the entire bottom half of the table.  Stoke have never finished in the top half of the table, and the aim is the same as always this year – change that factoid.

MORE: Game schedule | Match finder

Everyone except the Daily Mail knows by now that world-class striker Luis Suarez won’t feature in the match due to his 10-game suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season.  He does, however, remain on the books for Liverpool and hasn’t left despite a very public campaign to force his sale.

Thanks to Suarez’s ban, new signing Iago Aspas (pictured, left) will be unveiled, and it will be a chance for Liverpool fans to see what the possibility of being without Suarez for the long-term would be like. It’s a scary thought for fans to swallow, but there’s a real possibility that the man who scored 23 league goals for the Reds last year has played his last match at Anfield.

Aspas, coming over from La Liga side Celta de Vigo, is a proven goalscorer to replace Suarez up front, although he is perfectly capable of moving out to the wings when necessary.  His numbers reflect this versatility.  Two seasons ago with Celta, he scored 23 goals in 34 matches as the club earned promotion from the Spanish second division. Last year in La Liga, he scored 12 goals but also grabbed six assists.  Daniel Sturridge will also be availble to compliment the strike force.

Stoke have a new figurehead to be unveiled Saturday as well – new manager Mark Hughes.  The Welshman has had a bumpy ride in the Premier League, most recently his miserable failure at Queens Park Rangers that built the foundation for their relegation campaign last year. Hughes has what is presumably his last shot at proving his managerial abilities here at Stoke, and thus he has to make it count.

Hughes has made very few changes to the squad of last year, with one major addition being the swoop for young defender Mark Muniesa on a free transfer from Barcelona.  Two Americans could all appear for Hughes’ side against Liverpool, with Geoff Cameron and Maruice Edu available for selection, while Brek Shea works on returning from knee ligament damage.

Can Liverpool break their 12-year Opening Day duck? Will Mark Hughes get his first win with the Potters? You can find out by tuning in live on Saturday at 7:45am ET on NBC to watch Liverpool host Stoke City. And you can watch that game all the Premier League games live via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on Suarez saga: “Nothing can sabotage what we are trying to do here,” Rodgers said. “There’s too much good work gone on here for it to be overtaken by anything else.”

Mark Hughes on his public image: “Maybe I’m getting it wrong but I just think there’s a real sense that people want me to do well. I’d like to think people would see the bigger picture but I can understand why they don’t, because probably after QPR I think a lot of people had made their mind up that I was the root of all evil and I was the reason why the club went down last season.”

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel: “It doesn’t matter who we play against because the beginning of the season is always tough. Every team is full of energy and desire and they want to fight. We know that with Stoke it’s going to be a hard and difficult game for us. But we need a good start to the season and we will do all our best to make sure that happens and we get the three points.”

Prediction

Lots of people are saying this one could end in a horrifically boring 0-0 draw.  According to BBC Sport, Stoke were involved in seven of the 10 matches last season with the lowest ball-in-play time.  Liverpool are heavily distracted by Luis Suarez, and their back line is banged up as well.  Skrtel is only fit enough to make the bench, and Daniel Agger is expected to play despite his own injury troubles.  This could allow Stoke’s massive striker Peter Crouch to exploit their back line and shoot his visiting side to victory in a 1-0 upset.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.