Hughes: Reds form no surprise
Stoke manager Mark Hughes believes Liverpool's top-four credentials were obvious on the opening day of the season.
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The Potters started the campaign, and life under Hughes, with a 1-0 defeat at Anfield but came within a whisker of snatching a point when Reds debutant Simon Mignolet saved Jon Walters' late penalty.
Brendan Rodgers' side have impressed since then, making a compelling case for Champions League football next term with 39 points from 20 matches.
Their form has confounded some pundits but Hughes, whose side host Liverpool in the return fixture on Sunday, saw enough of them in August to predict a strong season.
"My memory of the Liverpool game is that we acquitted ourselves really well and made a good impression, but it's fair to say at the time we recognised Liverpool were going to have a really good season," he said.
"We were very much in that game and had an opportunity to take something out of the game, but unfortunately Jon missed the penalty. We discussed it immediately after the game and everyone - players and staff - thought Liverpool looked in really good nick.
"They were always likely to have a good season by virtue of their movement and their technical ability.
"So the progress they have made really hasn't surprised anybody here because we saw the evidence in the first game of the season."
Stoke could be somewhat unfortunate in facing all of Liverpool's key players at the Britannia, something of a rarity given recent injury problems.
While Luis Suarez has been a constant feature of the side over the festive period, captain Steven Gerrard only returned to the starting XI in last weekend's FA Cup win over Oldham following hamstring trouble and Daniel Sturridge (ankle) is expected to be back in the squad for the first time since November 23.
And Hughes does not disguise his admiration for the trio.
"If you add those two players to the quality Liverpool have in Suarez and they're outstanding," said Hughes.
"Suarez is playing on a different level to most strikers in the Premier League - I noted he has won player of the month and that doesn't surprise anybody given the quality of his performances.
"But when you add another two players of the calibre of Sturridge and Gerrard, it's a a heady mix; you know you're up against a quality side.
"But we've shown we have the capability of matching the top teams in the league, which Liverpool undoubtedly are this year.
"We've beaten Chelsea and had good draws versus Manchester City and Everton.
"We're not fazed going up against the top sides in the division, we're in good form ourselves and we look forward to it."