The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Tottenham
Do or die for two teams with title and Champions League aspirations.
It’s difficult to know what to make of a game that you might have pinned down as a battle for fourth place back in August, if only Liverpool could find a bit of consistency. Yet, with single figures of games to go, it’s Spurs who have struggled to get going in a season of managerial frustration and general ennui, while the Merseysiders have impressed many with their attacking verve.
- Liverpool 2-1 S'land (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-3 Swansea (Prem)
- Tottenham 3-2 So'ton (Prem)
- Benfica 2-2 Tottenham (EL)
- Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Tottenham 1-3 Benfica (EL)
- Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham (Prem)
Such has been the Reds' flowing football, it’s becoming difficult to write anything knew about. Seemingly like Roger Federer at Grand Slam-accumulating best, if they play to 90-95% of their attacking ability it matters little what the opposition do, because they will score more. Brendan Rodgers’ cute tactical tweaks – think Raheem Sterling as a zippy No.10 against Manchester United – also give Liverpool the feel of an intelligent outfit capable of implementing their manager’s instructions to the letter.
Yes, the defence still looks weak – the Reds have conceded 38 times already this season and only once in the last 13 Premier League campaigns have the champions conceded more than a goal a game on average – but with Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and a supporting cast of busy midfielders they will undoubtedly have a massive say in the destination of the title, even if they don’t win it.
Though something of a cloud still hangs over White Hart Lane, last weekend’s come-from-behind victory against a vibrant Southampton showed that Tim Sherwood’s side haven’t packed up for the training grounds of Brazil or glistening tropical beaches just yet. Playing in a more natural role just behind centre-forward Roberto Soldado, playmaker Christian Eriksen had one of his best games in Lilywhite against the Saints, scoring twice and providing a constant nuisance.
Indeed, Eriksen’s nascent partnership with Soldado showed signs of promise. The Spaniard may not have found the net, but he did find Eriksen on 10 occasions, including one assist and one first touch so sublime it could have been Dimitar Berbatov back in a Spurs shirt. A lot is made of Soldado’s penalty box prowess, but his link-up play has been impressive, even if his goal return from open play has not. If that pair can combine to similar effect, they have the talent to give the home side’s back four plenty to think about.
Long-term absentee Jose Enrique misses out for Liverpool, who have fit-again Lucas back in contention for a midfield place, possibly at the expense of Joe Allen. Emmanuel Adebayor just missed out against Southampton and will be in contention to return to the squad for the trip to Anfield. Kyle Walker’s pain-killing injections on a pelvic injury mean he’s assessed on a weekly basis, while Erik Lamela is back in training, but unlikely to be fit for another few weeks. Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches remain on the sidelines.
Key battle: Steven Gerrard vs Christian Eriksen
Though the experiment of sitting the England captain in front of the Liverpool back four has born its fair share of fruit, last Saturday's 6-3 win at Cardiff proved that Gerrard still has areas to improve on in his new deep role. For each of the Bluebirds' first-half goals, Gerrard allowed Jordon Mutch and Fraizer Campbell to drift off his shoulder to score. It’s in these central areas that Eriksen should produce his best work. Against Southampton, the Dane created a match-high 6 chances and provided the (admittedly square-pass) assist for Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late winner. If Gerrard can keep the 22-year-old quiet, it will go a long way towards securing a Liverpool victory, but a typically clever performance from Eriksen will cause problems.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Spurs 0-5 L'pool (Prem, Dec 13)
- L'pool 3-2 Spurs (Prem, Mar 13)
- Spurs 2-1 L'pool (Prem, Nov 12)
- L'pool 0-0 Spurs (Prem, Feb 12)
- Spurs 4-0 L'pool (Prem, Sep 11)
Rodgers’ tactical acuity is increasingly impressive, so expect more subtle changes to the recent Liverpool midfield diamond. Also, expect him to be “so proud” of the players win, lose or draw.
Sherwood can point to impressive comebacks against Benfica and Southampton for the spirit and tenacity he can still instil in his charges. He may not be to every Spurs fan’s taste, but if he can salvage European – who knows, maybe even Champions League – football from this season, his reputation will undoubtedly be enhanced.
Facts and figures
- There has been at least 1 goal before half-time in each of Liverpool’s last 26 matches.
- Liverpool have won 14 of their last 16 home matches and they were ahead at half-time in all 14 wins.
- 10 of Liverpool’s last 12 home games have had at least 4 goals.
- There have been 3 or more goals in 8 of Spurs’ last 9 trips to top-six teams with at least 4 goals in 6 of the games.
- Spurs have conceded 21 goals in their 5 games this season against the current top 3 – and they’ve scored just twice.
Goals, in a word. Liverpool to edge a 3-2 thriller.