3pm ET, live in the US on espn2
Last four head-to-head:
0-4 Tottenham (a) 09.18.11
0-2 Tottenham (h) 05.15.11
1-2 Tottenham (a) 11.28.10
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.20.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Wolves (a); 2-1 United (h); 2-2 City (h)
Spurs: 3-1 Wigan (h); 1-0 Watford (a); 2-3 City (a)
Liverpool: Bellamy 6; Suarez 5; Carroll 3; Adam, Gerrard, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Henderson, Johnson, Kuyt 1
Spurs: Bale 10; Adebayor 9; Defoe 8; van der Vaart 7; Lennon, Modric 3; Assou-Ekotto, Kaboul, Walker 1
Referee: Michael Oliver
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Henderson Bellamy
With six days since the last match, there seems little need for drastic changes from the side which beat Wolves three-nil. The only assured alteration is Gerrard's return, for either Spearing, Adam, or Henderson (probably not Spearing).
Yes, I'm well aware Suarez's ban is over. I'm also unsure if he's anywhere near match fitness. He's been back on Merseyside for a couple of weeks after traveling to Uruguay, he's been training, and Dalglish rightfully hasn't ruled him in or out. But I suspect he'll be used similarly to his first match in England, coming off the bench with half an hour to play, when he scored the second against Stoke. Incidentally, he was returning from an extended ban for biting Otman Bakkal prior to that debut appearance.
There's also the question of whether Liverpool will stick with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation we've seen over the last few matches. Does Suarez replace Carroll, who's finally hitting his stride, or does Suarez replace Kuyt or Bellamy, playing wider than he usually has for Liverpool? When Suarez and Carroll have both started, Liverpool have almost always played 4-4-2; the exceptions were Suarez on the left of a 4-3-3 in the 0-1 loss at Fulham and 0-4 loss at Spurs. Liverpool have played some decent matches when using 4-4-2, but they've been few and far between, and usually against a lesser caliber of opponents (Stoke in the Carling Cup, West Brom, etc.). Using that formation against a very-in-form Spurs, with Suarez just back from suspension, is an entirely different proposal.
Gerrard will replace Henderson or Adam, as Liverpool need Spearing's defensive abilities in midfield. I suspect Adam's the odd man out due to the simple fact that Gerrard's played deeper in midfield in almost every match this season. He's not the in-the-hole second striker who struck fear into the hearts of defenses in 2008-09; three years and multiple injuries later, he's become far more of an orthodox central midfielder, for better or worse. Henderson's usually been the player drifting between the lines, and he's done surprisingly well, although he played better in the second half against Wolves when more reserved and drifting right. Also, it's worth noting Adam has started all 23 league matches; only he and Enrique are the only outfield players to do so. A more 4-1-4-1ish shape with Gerrard and Adam slightly ahead of Spearing certainly isn't out of the question. Admittedly, given Dalglish's propensity for changes – up there with Benitez at his best – little is out of the question.
Having three in midfield and Kuyt on the right seem crucial with the form Gareth Bale's in. Tracking back – one of Kuyt's favorite tasks – will be necessary, better able to double up on Welsh Jesus with Johnson than Bellamy, Downing, Maxi, or Henderson. And as Zonal Marking points out, Bale's added the ability to come inside, requiring more attention from the central midfielders. It'd be strange to see Downing left out again, but Kuyt looks more likely on the right, and Suarez or Bellamy look more likely on the left. If Liverpool sticks with the formation seen most often of late, that is.
Spurs are deservedly third, true title contenders just five points behind United and City, 11 points ahead of Liverpool. Bale's not the only player in sterling form. Adebayor, Defoe, and van der Vaart also have more goals than Liverpool's top scorer; Modric's been one of the best central midfielders in the league (again), forming an excellent partnership with Parker; and Redknapp has enough confidence in his defense to loan out both Corluka and Bassong during the January window. Spurs have a handful of players doubtful: Adebayor, Walker, van der Vaart, Lennon, and Defoe are all carrying knocks – the first three picked up in Tuesday's match against Wigan – but only Bentley, Gallas, Jenas, and Huddlestone are definitely ruled out. New signings Saha and Nelsen should be in the squad, but neither will likely start.
Liverpool have lost four of the last five matches against Spurs by a margin of 10-4. The last three losses, one under Hodgson and two under Dalglish, have seen Liverpool outscored eight to one. Tottenham have truly become Liverpool's bogey side, not only beating the Reds more often than not, home or away, but making Liverpool look wholly awful in the process. No matter Adam's early red card in September's meeting, Liverpool were second best by some distance, while last May's 0-2 loss was almost equally insipid. Coincidentally, Spurs scored in the first ten minutes of both matches.
This fixture is the first of an exceptionally important run, one which will make or break the season. Three of the toughest matches in the league and two vastly important cup ties: v Tottenham, at United, the 5th round of the FA Cup, the Carling Cup final, then Arsenal at Anfield. The next four weeks will see crucial match after crucial match with little respite. It's imperative Liverpool begins this stretch in the best possible manner.