11am ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.20.10
1-2 Spurs (a) 08.16.09
3-1 Liverpool (h) 05.24.09
2-4 Spurs (a; Carling Cup) 12.11.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 West Ham (h); 0-2 Stoke (a); 1-1 Wigan (a)
Spurs: 3-0 Werder Bremen (h); 3-2 Arsenal (a); 4-2 Blackburn (h)
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard 3; Kuyt, Kyrgiakos, Maxi 2; Johnson, Ngog 1
Spurs: van der Vaart 6; Bale 5; Pavlyuchenko 4; Hutton 2; Crouch, Huddlestone, Kaboul, Modric 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Maxi Meireles Lucas Cole
Will Liverpool play anything like they did against West Ham when facing tough opposition away from Anfield? Will Hodgson keep the faith with the same line-up – albeit with Lucas returning from suspension – or will Joe Cole walk straight back into the line-up?
If Cole starts, I expect it'll be in place of Ngog, with Kuyt moving up front and Maxi switching flanks. But, especially since this is an away match, Cole could also play behind the striker with Kuyt and Maxi staying in the positions they played against West Ham. If Cole's only fit enough for the bench, Liverpool should keep faith with the young Frenchman, who combined well with Torres last Saturday.
The other change should come in central midfield. Ideally, Poulsen will make way for Lucas, but I'm obviously frightened that Hodgson will use the Dane's previous performance – where he couldn't have had more time on the ball – to either keep Lucas out or shift Meireles back to the flank. Which would be a mistake given how much Tottenham like to press and the side's pace in attack. I can't shake the feeling that Modric would relish facing Poulsen.
Tottenham's major threat, especially in the rumored absence of van der Vaart, is obviously Gareth Bale. It'll be a stern defensive test for Johnson after last week's complete focus on attack. The Welshman's blistering pace is an argument for starting Kuyt on the flank because of the Dutchman's willingness to track back and all-action style. It's also an argument for starting Lucas in midfield: he's much more capable of doubling up on dangerous wingers, as Malouda found out when Liverpool faced Chelsea.
Glen Johnson's never been the securest defender, which is why he's come in for criticism of late, especially when sat back in Hodgson's deep line of four. Johnson's quick enough to keep pace with Bale, but his awareness of the winger's runs will be paramount to being in good defensive positions. That frequent lack of awareness is why I'm tempted to suggest a start for Martin Kelly, who – like Lucas – did well against Chelsea, preventing attacks from Malouda and Ashley Cole down Liverpool's right. Conversely, I'm also afraid that Hodgson will go for 'safety first' by picking Carragher at right back with Skrtel and Kyrgiakos in the middle, which would be a recipe for disaster. Hodgson's post-West Ham comments about 'attacking' fullbacks – "What was most pleasing today was that we've done a lot of work on trying to get our full-backs forward and trying to get our midfielders to create space for them." – hopefully suggest that Liverpool won't regress to a deep, defensive flat back four.
Spurs have fitness questions about both van der Vaart and Jenas. Jenas has done well paired with Modric – proving that teams can succeed with two "attacking" central midfielders – and has been even more important since Huddlestone's injury. But van der Vaart's been a revelation for Tottenham, having scored seven in seven games at White Hart Lane. Even if van der Vaart's available, Tottenham's formation could be 4-4-2, with the Dutchman ostensibly on the right and two from Crouch, Pavlyuchenko, and the recently-fit Defoe up front (as against Arsenal), or 4-4-1-1, with van der Vaart floating behind one of the strikers. If the Dutchman can't go, Lennon will start on the right, as he did against Bremen on Wednesday. I'm sure Konchesky's looking forward to that.
While Spurs can score, having tallied 10 goals in their last three games, they also concede, especially after mid-week European games. They've kept three clean sheets in all competitions – against Manchester City (in the first game of the season), Young Boys, and Bremen – which is fewer than Liverpool have in just the league. Not counting Wednesday's victory, Tottenham have won three Champions League matches. They've lost two of the three successive league games – to Bolton and Wigan – after those European victories.
Spurs' defensive struggles and record after mid-week games suggests that Liverpool should try to match them in attacking ambition. If the away side sit back, Tottenham have a tendency to run riot. Sadly, Liverpool have a tendency to sit back away from Anfield; Hodgson's utterly inability to win away matches, combined with a demonstrable lack of appetite for attacking, is well-documented. And, to be fair, Liverpool also have a poor record at White Hart Lane under the previous manager, losing in their last three trips.
Countless words have been written about Liverpool finding form and turning some metaphorical corner. But if Liverpool don't become more aggressive away from Anfield, that corner will stay unturned and Liverpool will remain a mid-table side at best. Sunday presents an opportunity to make headway against a strong club which Liverpool should be competing with in the table; Spurs, in sixth, only have three more points than the Reds. Hopefully, Liverpool will play as if they can beat the opposition instead trying not to be beaten.