13 December 2013

Liverpool at Tottenham 12.15.13

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (h) 03.10.13
1-2 Tottenham (a) 11.28.12
0-0 (h) 02.06.12
0-4 Tottenham (a) 09.18.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 West Ham (h); 5-1 Norwich (h); 1-3 Hull (a)
Tottenham: 4-1 Anzhi (h); 2-1 Sunderland (a); 2-1 Fulham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 15; Sturridge 9; Gerrard 3; Coutinho, Moses, Sakho, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Tottenham: Soldado 4; Sigurðsson 3; Paulinho 2; Chiriches, Holtby, Sandro, Townsend, Walker 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Lucas Allen
Sterling Coutinho Henderson

I doubt there will be much deviation from the side which beat West Ham last week, aside from Gerrard's obvious absence.

Missing Gerrard and Sturridge and Enrique is bad enough, but at least the rumors that Henderson was also injured turned out to be false. And I suspect we'll see Henderson on the left – as he was for spells against West Ham – to counteract Spurs' threat down that flank and protect Flanagan. That's the side where Spurs are most threatening, with Walker bombing forward from right back and one of Lennon, Townsend, or Lamela as a wide forward.

The other option seems to be packing the midfield, most likely with Henderson and Allen marginally ahead of Lucas, with Coutinho, Sterling, and Suarez as the lone attackers, set up for the counter, in more of a 4-3-3.

But there's also a small temptation to revert to three at the back. Mignolet; Skrtel, Sakho, Agger; Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Johnson; Coutinho; Aspas/Sterling, Suarez. It could be either 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3. Eight players who'll do far more defending, three attackers as release valves, but even more players packed in the central area of the middle and defensive thirds, the areas where Spurs will look to dominate.

15 matches into the campaign, and I've no idea what Tottenham's strongest XI is. I don't think Andre Villas-Boas does either. And that's probably a large reason why Spurs are still underperforming, still disjointed, and sat in sixth, albeit only three points behind Liverpool and Chelsea. Yes, yes, Suarez has scored as many league goals as Spurs in total in five fewer matches. But Spurs are unbeaten in the last five matches since losing 0-6 to City, with two Europa League wins and two wins and a draw in the Premiership.

Which of Sandro, Paulinho, and Dembele makes the best midfield pairing? Or do you try to play all three? And how does Capoue get shoe-horned back into that group? He's been needed in central defense recently, with Vertonghen injured, but you'd assume the Belgian will walk back into the XI once fit. And it doesn't help that Chiriches and Kaboul are also likely out, although the Romanian could be available after missing the last week with a swollen knee.

Is it possible to have too many wide players? Any of Holtby, Sigurðsson, Lennon, Townsend, Lamela, or Chadli could get the nod. Holtby and Sigurðsson are more patient on the ball, more like central attacking players that just happen to start out wide, helping Spurs keep possession in the opponent's half. Either can play in the middle of an attacking line of three or on the flank; Holtby can also play deeper in central midfield, as he did against Anzhi. Lennon and Townsend are speedy wingers; the former adds width and crosses, the latter cuts inside and shoots from distance with little conscience or thought to where anyone else is on the pitch. Chadli's height could add an extra dimension on set plays, especially given how much trouble Liverpool have had defending them. And Lamela, on paper, seems the most talented: an excellent dribbler, passer, and goal-scorer at Roma, but he's seen the least pitch time of the six, and there has been little indication as to why.

Is Jermain Defoe really a better fit than Roberto Soldado? Well, maybe. Soldado's struggled to make an impact – aside from his hat-trick against Anzhi on Thursday – and Defoe's pace might well do more to unsettle Liverpool's defense. However, Defoe underwhelmed and failed to score when starting both matches against Liverpool last season, and has just three goals in 20 (!!) appearances against Liverpool since 2001 (!!!!). The third option up front, Adebayor, is also out injured.

And what's the deal with Lamela and Eriksen? Two highly, highly, highly touted signings who haven't seen anywhere near the playing time we expected, although Eriksen's at least has the excuse of a month-long injury, which he's just returning from.

It's probably safe to assume that few of the players who started against Anzhi on Thursday will also start on Sunday. Spurs' Europa League lineup was: Friedel; Naughton, Capoue, Fryers, Rose; Dembele, Holtby; Lamela, Sigurðsson, Townsend; Soldado.

So my best guess at Tottenham's XI is Lloris; Walker, Capoue, Dawson, Rose; Sandro, Paulinho; Lennon, Holtby, Chadli; Defoe.

Liverpool haven't won, haven't even taken a point, at White Hart Lane since May 2008, a last-day-of-the-season 3-1 victory which meant little; Liverpool were locked in fourth, Tottenham had moved all the way up to 11th after Jol was sacked with Spurs in the relegation zone. It's Liverpool's longest drought on any ground, as long as they've played the opposition more than once during that stretch. Since that win? Six consecutive losses, including one in the League Cup, outscored by a 16 to 6 margin. Incidentally, four of the five league matches have finished 2-1 to Tottenham, in case you're in a mood to gamble on Sunday's scoreline.

Liverpool are deservedly ahead of Spurs in the table after 15 games. This is not last season's Tottenham, or 2011-12 Tottenham. Not yet, at least. But it will still be a tough test, probably Liverpool's toughest of the season aside from the 0-2 loss at Arsenal last month. And it will be a very good indicator how much Liverpool might struggle, or how much Liverpool could surprise and impress, in even tougher tests to come at City and Chelsea in the next couple of weeks.

The snowball will start rolling down the hill with this fixture. Either it picks up steam and mass and rolls over Liverpool's opponents, or it crushes Liverpool's hopes of a top four finish.

1 comment :

Mar said...

Liverpool was accurate, swift, and merciless. Kudos to the owners who were likewise when they appointed Rodgers.