Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 08.31.14
4-0 Liverpool (h) 03.30.14
5-0 Liverpool (a) 12.14.13
3-2 Liverpool (h) 03.10.13
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Everton (a); 2-1 Bolton (a); 2-0 West Ham (h)
Tottenham: 2-1 Arsenal (h); 3-0 West Brom (a); 2-2 Sheffield Utd (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 5; Lallana, Own Goal 4; Coutinho, Henderson, Lambert, Moreno, Sturridge 2; Borini, Can, Johnson, Markovic, Skrtel 1
Tottenham: Kane 12; Eriksen 9; Chadli 7; Adebayor, Dier 2; Lamela, Rose, Soldado, Vertonghen 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Ibe Henderson Allen Moreno
Well, that was a less-than-successful derby on the injury front.
We've learned that Lucas will be out for 'a little bit of time,' rumored to be around a month. Which is bad news. Not counting Saturday, Lucas had started in 12 league matches, with Liverpool averaging 2.25 points per match. And in the 11 he didn't start, Liverpool averaged 1.0 points per match.
I'm tempted to think that Liverpool's midfield would be better with Emre Can rather than Allen in place of Lucas, but after the last 10 or so matches, I'm certain that Liverpool's defense is better with Emre Can. Maybe Lovren or Johnson come into the side, with Can moving into midfield, but why take the risk? The defense has been excellent. And Allen, who's barely featured over the last two months, should improve with increased game time.
At least it appears that both Coutinho and Sterling will be available. Would it be better for the players to miss out tomorrow, giving them more time to recuperate from their respective knocks? Obviously. But can Liverpool afford to do so and still win? That I'm much less sure about.
There are also concerns about the availability of Lallana and Markovic, the former left out of the squad at Everton, the latter left on the bench. If fit, Lallana could start instead of Sterling or Coutinho (or Sturridge, if he's still not ready to start). Gerrard's coming off of consecutive 90-minute appearances in the last six days and is obviously going to start in the
Finally, I hope that after three substitute appearances, Sturridge will finally be available from the start. It'd be fitting if Sturridge made his first start since returning injury tomorrow, as his last start came at Tottenham just over five months ago. It's the circle of life.
Liverpool have thoroughly enjoyed their last four matches against Tottenham, but this will be a very different fixture. Tottenham are in excellent form, with just one league loss since December 10, an even longer streak than Liverpool's while also picking up more points because of their ability to win rather than draw. It's truly become Pochettino's team: incredibly fit and incredibly tough to beat. Five of Tottenham's last seven league wins have been 2-1 victories. And none of those opposition goals have been consolations, either taking the lead or drawing level only to still lose; three of those five victories came with winning goals after the 85th minute. This team doesn't know when it's beaten. That's not the Tottenham I know.
Partly thanks to that incredible fitness, Tottenham have no current injuries despite a similarly packed fixture list as Liverpool. They'll be able to start Pochettino's strongest XI. It'll be 4-2-3-1, and my best guess is Lloris; Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Bentaleb, Mason; Lamela, Dembele, Eriksen; Kane; the same XI which started against Arsenal. Fazio or Chiriches could come into defense instead of Dier. Chadli could be preferred to Dembele or Lamela, the former allowing Eriksen to play in a central role. Personally, I'd play Chadli rather than Lamela, if only for his aerial ability on set plays, which remains Liverpool's main defensive weakness. Or Pochettino could prefer Townsend's out-and-out pace. Stupid plethora of options which Liverpool doesn't have.
Like Liverpool, they're a very young team: Kane's 21, Eriksen's 22, Lamela's 22, Bentaleb's 20 and Mason's 23. It's safe to assume that they'll only continue to get better. Kane's the man of the moment, with two goals against both Arsenal and West Brom in his last two games, and seven goals since the start of the New Year, but Eriksen has been just as important to Tottenham's success, both from open play and set plays. Aside from possibly the league cup match at Chelsea, this will be the sternest test of Liverpool's revamped defense.
One cause for optimism is that Tottenham have kept just two clean sheets in their last nine league matches: a 0-0 draw against United six weeks ago and the 3-0 win at West Brom 10 days ago. They rarely concede more than one, but at least they usually concede. But this is Liverpool we're talking about.
Regardless of the fact that this is a different Tottenham team than in previous meetings, you suspect Liverpool will approach the match the same way. Look to blitz Tottenham from the off, hope to score the early goal which will reprise memories of the last three meetings even if Tottenham's become a more resilient side, and then settle into a counter-attacking routine, soaking up pressure with the improved defense and quickly transitioning into speedy attacks against a sometimes vulnerable opposition.
But that's much easier said than done.