27 November 2012

Liverpool at Tottenham 11.28.12

2:45pm ET, live in the US on espn3

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 02.06.12
0-4 Tottenham (a) 10.18.11
0-2 Tottenham (h) 05.15.11
1-2 Tottenham (a) 11.28.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Swansea (a); 2-2 Young Boys (h); 3-0 Wigan (h)
Tottenham: 3-1 West Ham (h); 0-0 Lazio (a); 2-5 Arsenal (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 10; Enrique, Gerrard, Şahin, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Tottenham: Defoe 7; Bale 5; Caulker, Dempsey 2; Adebayor, Assou-Ekotto, Dembele, Gallas, Lennon 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson
Gerrard Allen
Shelvey
Sterling Suarez Enrique

Oh, look. Like Wigan 11 days ago, another side that Liverpool hasn't beaten since Rafa Benitez was manager. Here's hoping this recent curse is so thoroughly rendered moot. I suspect it won't be nearly as easy.

Rodgers announced that Wisdom is back in contention, which should put an end to the Downing at left-back experiment. Johnson will go back to that flank, hopefully replicating the excellent combination with Enrique in Liverpool's last league win while still contributing to attack as he did against Swansea, the most dangerous player in Liverpool's far better first half.

Which, as per usual, means that the lone question is about Liverpool's set-up and personnel in midfield. I doubt Rodgers will play Allen as the lone controller, behind Henderson and Gerrard, as in the last two matches. Gerrard's performances, especially in a deeper role, have become an unwelcome issue. Having played 90 minutes in all 13 league matches, he's just 42 minutes away from equaling his total Premiership minutes played last season. He and Joe Allen are the only two players to feature in every minute of every league match this season; Suarez is three minutes off that total, removed for Shelvey at the end of last Saturday's match against Wigan.

But no matter Gerrard's injury history over the last two seasons or recent performances, no matter Allen's evident fatigue in the last month or so, I doubt we're in for radical changes. If Rodgers reverts to the more-familiar two holding midfielders and one attacking midfielder set-up, those two are odds-on to play in the deeper roles, with Shelvey, Şahin, Henderson, and Suso competing for the more-advanced position.

We haven't seen Şahin in the league since he was substituted against Chelsea, the impetus for the change in formation and Liverpool's resurgence that day. Given how he's been used, Henderson seems more likely to play only if Liverpool replicate the formation against Wigan and Swansea. The role Suso played against Wigan, which didn't work against that opposition, may be more effective against a strong Tottenham side, although it'd still be somewhat of a surprise to see the 19-year-old chosen in a match of this magnitude. By process of elimination, Shelvey seems favorite for the role, coming closest to the needed goal against Swansea during the disappointing second half on Sunday.

There's a small chance that Rodgers may try to replicate the starting set-up at Chelsea earlier this month, with three center-backs and Sterling and Suarez up front, trying to smother a competent Tottenham attack and counter at pace, added protection for a midfield that's been beaten on the break far too often and a raw right back. But given that experiment's failure at Stamford Bridge, with Liverpool only challenging the Blues after shifting to the more-standard 4-2-3-1, that change seems incredibly unlikely.

Not only are Spurs a club that's frustrated Liverpool on the pitch in the last two seasons, but they've added extra fuel to the fire by beating Liverpool to two of this summer's transfer targets. Neither Sigurðsson nor Dempsey have set Tottenham afire, competing for the same spot in the starting XI – replacing van der Vaart – but both would have added a much-needed dimension to this Liverpool squad.

As with Liverpool, Spurs are still struggling with a new manager and new style of play. Villas-Boas is an easy target after his shenanigans at Chelsea, made worse by the fact that Spurs are 11 points behind their total at this point last season. They've lost three of the last four in the league; away defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City weren't necessarily surprising, but the setback against Wigan which started the rot was regrettable, to say the least. Normal service seemed resumed on Sunday against West Ham, who began the day ahead of Spurs in the table.

Gallas, Dembele, and Sandro should return from recent injuries. The latter two are far more important, especially since Scott Parker (along with Assou-Ekotto and Kaboul) remains a long-term casualty. Adebayor is suspended for two more matches following his red card against Arsenal.

Villas-Boas will almost certainly deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lloris is the more-likely keeper, having evidently seized the place from Brad Friedel. Walker and Vertonghen will be the fullbacks, while Dawson, Gallas, and Caulker will compete for the two center-back spots. Sandro and Dembele, if both fit, will be the holding midfielders, while the front four seems certain: Lennon, Dempsey, and Bale operating behind top-scorer Defoe, who has tallied seven so far in this league campaign, not far behind his total through all of last season.

While both clubs have caused Liverpool multiple problems in recent seasons, the difference between Tottenham and Wigan is that tomorrow's opponent has finished above Liverpool in the last three campaigns, and by some distance in the last. Given each's respective form over the last two or three years, it's little surprise that Tottenham have beaten Liverpool thrice while drawing once. That doesn't make it any less painful, mind.

The easy narrative is Villas-Boas versus Rodgers, one manager tasked with rebuilding a struggling club, the other with following the darling of Her Majesty's Press Corps. But the real issue is Liverpool's performance against a club it has notably struggled to beat no matter each's form since 2008-09, taking just two of the last nine matches against Tottenham and winless at White Hart Lane since the last day of the 2007-08 season. The winner that day was scored by Andriy Voronin, with Fernando Torres adding a second. Which should emphasize just how long it's been.

That said, Liverpool can't lose the forest for the trees. No matter the opposition, the real, real issue is demonstrable improvement and continuing progress, both in tactics and performance, under the new manager and in the new system. As said multiple times, that's pretty much all we can hope for this season.

Still, it'd be nice – and is fairly crucial – to get points on the board. Unbeaten in eight means little when five are draws, preventing Liverpool from making demonstrable progress in the table. Making that progress against tomorrow's opponents would just be extra gratifying.

1 comment:

Keith C said...

Nate, or any other folks watching tomorrow on ESPN3 tomorrow - any idea if the game tomorrow is going to be archived on ESPN3? It seems to me that EPL games this year generally have not been archived, but looking on tomorrow's schedule, it says "Live Only" next to the West Ham/Man United game (also on ESPN3). Does this imply that the games that don't have the "Live Only" tag are archived?

Any help would be appreciated.

-Keith