The FourFourTwo Preview: Tottenham vs Liverpool
League leaders' first big test – with the visitors set to unleash Balotelli.
- Spurs vs AEL (EL)
- Spurs 4-0 QPR (Prem)
- AEL 1-2 Spurs (EL)
- West Ham 0-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Spurs 2-1 Schalke (F)
- Man City 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 So’ton (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-0 Dortmund (F)
- Man Utd 3-1 Liverpool (F)
- Milan 0-2 Liverpool (F)
"Calculated risk" or "enormous gamble"? While many, including former Liverpool boss Graeme Souness, have been quick to question Brendan Rodgers over the signing of Mario Balotelli, in our book he's a £16 million bet worth taking in a transfer window where even Championship clubs are prepared to cough up seven-figure fees for a proven striker.
Having sat in the stands for Liverpool's 3-1 loss to his former club Manchester City, Mad Mario Mk II looks set to pull on the shirt at White Hart Lane. "He's played three 45-minute games and is looking fit," said Rodgers on Wednesday. "The medical and sports science team have worked with him and he's in very, very good condition. He's in to work and will be available for the squad for the weekend."
Rodgers' aim will be to bring some much-needed consistency to Balotelli's game, which has frequently blown hot and cold since the 24-year-old first burst onto the scene with Inter Milan in 2007.
The manager will most likely look to accommodate him up front alongside Daniel Sturridge in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which worked to such devastating effect last season.
Souness is right about one thing: if such a set-up doesn't work out and Balotelli spends the next 10 months on the bench as Sturridge's back-up man, we'll still all be talking about him regardless – as we are right now, before he's even kicked a football. Let's move on...
The last time Liverpool visited N17, Luis Suarez tore the home side apart in a remarkable 5-0 rout – a result which signalled the end of Andre Villas-Boas' time as Tottenham boss. But with Suarez gone and Spurs seemingly warming to the methods of Mauricio Pochettino with far more willingness than they did with AVB or Tim Sherwood, a repeat result looks about as likely as Daniel Levy doing the Ice Bucket Challenge...
Against QPR last weekend, Pochettino had his side attacking with real purpose, their effective high pressing ensuring it was a far from happy homecoming for Harry Redknapp as Spurs ran out 4-0 winners. It came on the back of a gritty smash-and-grab at West Ham which, while not as easy on the eye, was a well-executed tactical plan away from home by the Argentine coach.
An impressive start to the season then, but it's worth remembering both their games were winnable London derbies. The visit of Liverpool will undoubtedly be a bigger test for the league leaders.
Staying true to the Tottenham way, Pochettino's been making late moves in the transfer market before the window slams shut next Monday. With Michael Dawson moving to Hull for an undisclosed fee, in comes Argentine centre-back Federico Fazio from Sevilla in an £8 million deal, while Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin remains on the manager's radar.
For Spurs, Kyle Walker's hip complaint makes him a doubt, while fellow defender Vlad Chiriches is available having beaten his back injury. Kyle Naughton returns to the squad having missed the QPR win through suspension, while further upfield, Roberto Soldado's neck-knack could keep him out.
In the red corner, Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan are still getting over their knee-knocks, although it's better news in the knee department for £23m summer signing Adam Lallana, who looks ready to make his Reds bow.
Key battle: Erik Lamela vs Dejan Lovren
Spurs' record signing had a debut season to forget, but having shaken off a back problem the Argentine appears revitalised under compatriot Pochettino, and at 22 can be excused a bedding-in period in a new league and country. Man-of-the-match against QPR, the former Roma man flourished in the space behind Emmanuel Adebayor, having been given the freedom to drift across the pitch from his starting position on the right.
As well as creating two goals – the corner for Dier and chip for Nacer Chadli's second – the attacking midfielder's newfound confidence could be seen from his keenness to run at opponents with the ball. Lamela succeeded in 5 of his 9 take-ons, the highest on the pitch on both counts.
Hats off to Pochettino for showing such faith in him. "We all know his skills and we are happy for him that he played well," said the Spurs manager after the game. "We work a lot to create space for the attacking players. It is important they are free because they are creative players. You need organisation but you can't put players like that in the shade."
Having excelled with Southampton last season, Lovren won't be afforded the same time to settle in at his new club, with the £20m Croatian tasked with shoring up a sometimes leaky defence. The centre-back will want to improve on his showing at the Etihad Stadium, however, where the entire Reds back-line came under fire following a disjointed display.
"The back four never really functioned well, but Lovren had a difficult night, him and [Alberto] Moreno on that side," said Sky pundit Jamie Carragher. "It’s basic back four work and it’s something Liverpool are going to have to work on."
Although a touch unfortunate with the header that led to Stevan Jovetic scoring his first goal, Rodgers will be more concerned with how Lovren faded as the game went on, with Sergio Aguero beating him with ease for City's third. If Lamela continues where he left off against QPR, Lovren could have problems.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L'pool 4-0 Spurs (PL, Mar 14)
- Spurs 0-5 L'pool (PL, Dec 13)
- L'pool 3-2 Spurs (PL, Mar 13)
- Spurs 2-1 L'pool (PL, Nov 12)
- L'pool 0-0 Spurs (PL, Feb 12)
While Pochettino insists it'll take time for his philosophy to come to fruition, the early signs are promising, with nobody at White Hart Lane missing Sherwood (well, besides that gobby fan who got to wear his gilet in the dugout). Much like at Southampton, double training sessions were the order of the day for Pochettino in pre-season, but his easy charm seems to keep his hard-working charges happy. And having finally ditched the translator for press conferences, it turns out he's quite a funny guy – although we're yet to establish whether he's "up for the banter" like predecessor Sherwood.
As for Rodgers, his gleaming pearly whites were out for all to see after securing Balotelli at such a price, but he wasn't smiling at the Etihad on Monday night. "We switched off just before half-time and gave away two poor goals," said the 41-year-old, 10 months younger than Pochettino. "We still have the core of our squad from last season but of course if you are coming from a different country and culture it will take a little time. We just need to refocus and look to the weekend now." It may be early days in the season, but the ambitious Ulsterman knows a second defeat in a week to a top-four rival doesn't bode well for his side's title targets.
Facts and figures
- Eric Dier is the first defender in Premier League history to score in his first 2 appearances.
- Etienne Capoue has made more passes (196) than any other Premier League player this season.
- Liverpool have not lost back-to-back games in the Premier League since December 2013.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
No instant impact from Mario as Spurs' winning start continues. 2-1.