13 May 2011

Liverpool v Tottenham 05.15.11

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Spurs (a) 11.28.10
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.20.10
1-2 Spurs (a) 08.16.09
3-1 Liverpool (h) 05.24.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-2 Fulham (a); 3-0 Newcastle (h); 5-0 Brum (h)
Spurs: 0-1 City (a); 1-1 Blackpool (h); 1-2 Chelsea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 13; Maxi 10; Meireles 5; Gerrard, Suarez 4; Carroll, Cole, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Skrtel 2
Spurs: van der Vaart 12; Pavlyuchenko 8; Bale 7; Crouch, Defoe 4; Lennon 3; Huddlestone, Hutton, Kranjcar, Modric 2; Bassong, Dawson, Kaboul, Sandro 1

Referee: Howard Webb


Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Maxi
Suarez Carroll

As tempting as it is to see Sunday as a celebration – the last home game of the season, with Dalglish just announced as permanent manager – a win would secure European competition for next season. For a team which sat in 12th when King Kenny took the reins in early January, 11 points behind Tottenham, it's utterly remarkable no matter your feelings about the Europa League.

Nonetheless, it wouldn't be Liverpool this season had we gone more than a couple of weeks without a new injury concern. Now it's Meireles' turn, pulling up with a problem against Fulham. His absence would allow Carroll to return to the starting XI without excluding a player who's tallied two hat-tricks in the last three games, without vastly altering the formation or (in theory) the style of play – as the flowing, comprehensive 3-0 win over City demonstrated. Meireles did train this week, as did Carroll, so Dalglish's line-up will probably be a game-time decision. If both are out, or simply not ready to start, I imagine it'll be Shelvey, who replaced Raul against City.

As to which fullback will play where, Justin_TDW made an excellent point on Twitter, one I really should have come up with: since half-time against Newcastle, Johnson has been deployed against the opposition's more dangerous player. That's it's been at right-back for the last 135 minutes of football may well be coincidental. And if that's the case, I'd expect to see Johnson on the left, facing the far-quicker Lennon, with Flanagan up against either Pienaar, Modric, or Krancjar on his favored flank. All three of those players are more liable to cut inside, making it far easier for Carragher to lend support.

For all the overwrought, tear-stained valentines addressed to Bale sloppily penned by Her Majesty's press corps, Modric undoubtedly has been Spurs' best player. Far more consistently brilliant than Welsh Jesus, I've been amazed at how well he's played in the middle of a 4-4-2. The Croatian started on the left against City, but moved back into the center when Palacios went off injured. Center-back Gallas also picked up a knock in Tottenham's last match, while Gomes, Jenas, Assou-Ekotto, and Huddlestone are also big doubts.

Tottenham's last win was April 9, a 3-2 home victory over Stoke. That's Spurs' only win in the last 10 league matches – the other nine saw six draws and three losses. And five of those six draws were against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. No matter Champions League highs, no matter injuries, nine points from ten games is a massive, unforgivable collapse. Yet Redknapp gets a free pass. Other managers (specifically foreign managers who may or may not be Spanish and/or managed Liverpool) would have been drawn, quartered, and hung on Tower Bridge as a warning to future applicants.

It goes without saying that Liverpool can't get carried away after the last match. Or last three matches, for that matter. Yes, the home team has won last five meetings between these two sides. Yes, Anfield will be absolutely rocking because of Dalglish's deal. And yes, these two sides have displayed diametrically opposite form over the last two months. But this will be a one-off prize fight for a European place. Liverpool exists to win trophies and play in Europe. Spurs fans can pretend that the Europa League is a step-down for a club which beat Serie A-winning AC Milan in Europe's premier competition, but it's not fooling anyone.

Finish him.

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