White Hart Lane, London
November 28th, 2012; 19:45 GMT
After three back-to-back defeats in the Premier League, Tottenham finally managed to steady their boat in an intense London Derby against West Ham on Sunday. A 3-1 victory at the Lane was characterized by some mesmerizing football by players like Bale, Dempsey and Defoe, injecting the much-needed energy into a Tottenham side which is finding it more than difficult to cope with the competition for the ‘Top Four’, a zone which they have revelled in, in the recent past. New manager Andre Villas-Boas initially came under scrutiny for his ‘mad scientist’ like tactics (fielding Bale at left-back and keeping France’ first choice goalkeeper on the bench for the initial bit of the season being the highlights) but now seems to have got a good understanding of his players’ strengths and weaknesses. With a desperate Liverpool arriving in London on Wednesday night, things couldn’t have shaped up at a better time for Mourinho’s protégé.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes that the team is getting better and better with each passing game and that their last encounter with Swansea was another step forward for the club in the quest for reaching the top four. Liverpool are undefeated in their last eight League games but considering their victories this season have all come in this time frame, they are going to have work harder to convert those draws into wins. Of the three victories, just one has come away from home, at Norwich which makes it all the more important that the Reds improve get into gear away from home as well. A win against Tottenham on Wednesday will take Liverpool to within a point of their London opponents in the table and out of the bottom half of the table, something that they have been struggling to achieve so far this campaign.
Tottenham and Liverpool encounters have been high on the entertainment quotient over the past few seasons. As the situation currently stands, it looks like a role reversal with Spurs being the side with an edge and the talent to get into Europe whereas Liverpool fighting hard to reach their competition and give them a hard time. This change in setting is alone enough to spice up this fixture.
Of course, a lot has changed at Tottenham since Harry Redknapp’s departure, which was a peak time at the club and the period when they could match almost any team on home and away turf. But Villas-Boas is just about doing enough to keep them in the hunt for a ‘Top Four’ finish, which is vital if they are to attract further world-class talent to the Lane.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Spurs walk into this game with the same list of absentees as was last week. Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto remain unavailable as they continue to nurse their respective injuries. Emmanuel Adebayor will sit this one out as he continues to serve his suspension following the red card he picked up against Arsenal earlier this month.
Tottenham could be without the services of midfielder Sandro though. The Brazilian hurt himself in the game against West Ham when he went in for a tackle with Diame and had to be stretchered off the pitch in the dying moments of the game. But the good news is that Dembele, who made a couple of cameos after returning from injury is declared fit to start and could be replacing Sandro in the centre with Huddlestone.
Villas-Boas could otherwise go with an unchanged side against Liverpool in midweek. Hugo Lloris was impressive in front of goal, coming off his line quickly to sweep any sort of threat and claiming crosses without much fuss. He will be on high alert in front of a menacing Luis Suarez and this could be one of the reasons why he starts over the much experienced Brad Friedel. Over in defence, Caulker and Dawson are likely to be the central pairing again. Although Dawson’s employment against West Ham was a tactical move with the aim to shut out Andy Carroll, between him and Gallas, the former could be a better option against Liverpool since the general notion is that Tottenham usually look a little weaker with Gallas than in his absence. They will, however, be careful not to bring out a high line of defence because this could prove suicidal given the pace and form of Suarez & Co.
With the presence of Dempsey, Lennon and Bale in front of Huddlestone and Dembele, Tottenham might have just made up for the lack of physical presence on the pitch, which is provided by Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese’ absence means a lot more passing happening on the ground than above it which allows the midfield to occasionally burst through the back line and into the box, setting up chances for themselves as well.
Probable Staring Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris(GK); Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vertonghen; Huddlestone, Dembele; Bale, Dempsey, Lennon; Defoe
The Reds travel to London with some piece of good news – midfielder Lucas has returned from injury and could start on the bench although various reports say he will be in contention when Liverpool face Southampton on December 1st. Right-back Andre Wisdom also missed the Swansea game due to a knee injury but could return to the substitutes bench provided he is declared match fit. The Reds otherwise have just Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini on the sidelines, both receiving treatment for long-term injuries.
Brendan Rodgers has not gone with the conventional 4-3-3 that he would otherwise use at Anfield away from home. Different formations against Chelsea and Swansea suggest that the manager is trying to come up with a formation as effective as a 4-3-3 in the absence of a second striker to partner Suarez. But Rodgers needs to trust the 4-3-3 sooner than later, even if it means fielding young players like Suso and Sterling for longer durations on away turf.
One could reason that Sahin and Suso were kept on the bench against Swansea for this reason. Both players have impressed so far this season and against a highly attack-minded line-up of Spurs, it only makes sense to deploy equally capable players from your team. Suso is one of those players who can probe forward and look to find the gaps between defenders, something which Suarez relies heavily on.
As long as Lucas is absent from the starting line-up, the midfield will wear the same look – Gerrard, Allen and Sahin. Allen’s role right now involves more defensive responsibilities, which gives Gerrard and Sahin more freedom ahead on the pitch. Gerrard will be the key in midfield for Liverpool in this game, unlocking the likes of Sterling and Suso on the break. Sahin carries a good temperament which allows him to dictate the pace of the game in most occasions. This is a very important aspect of Liverpool’s style since they should be able to up or reduce the tempo at any time.
In defence, Rodgers could start with Enrique at left-back to primarily keep up with Aaron Lennon’s pace. Speaking of which, Liverpool’s primary objective in defence should be to shut Gareth Bale out. The winger was in scintillating form against West Ham and with Modric having left the club, has turned out to be one of Tottenham’s key players this season. Johnson and Enrique will be on high alert as Bale and Lennon are likely to switch sides throughout the game in order to unsettle Liverpool’s defence.
Probable Staring Lineup (4-3-3): Reina(GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Allen, Sahin; Sterling, Suarez, Suso
Player to Watch Out For
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
The 23-year-old Welshman’s menacing runs could create havoc in the Liverpool half. Apart from Enrique, no one in the Liverpool squad really has the pace to catch up with Bale. Maybe Sterling comes close but heading back to defend and immediately jolting forward to aid in attack is not going to be an easy thing to throughout the game.
The absence of Adebayor means Bale will look to penetrate further into Liverpool’s defence with the ball at his feet instead of whipping in crosses from out wide. This leads the likes of Dempsey and Defoe to get into good scoring positions. Plus, if he keeps switching sides often in the opposition half, it will be difficult to keep him quiet for too long.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 0 Liverpool
Liverpool are yet to peak this season while Spurs have done well to maintain the momentum built by Harry Redknapp under AVB and clearly have the upper hand in this fixture. There are too many elements to the Spurs’ game that Liverpool need to take care of and unless they convert their chances (which they haven’t been doing), they will not be able to put up a fight against Spurs.
Blast from the Past
Last season, Tottenham ran riot over Liverpool in a 4-0 thrashing at White Hart Lane. To make things worse, Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel picked up red cards in the second half. But it was the opening goal by Luka Modric that rings the bells when one remembers that game. Let’s take another look at the Croat’s wonderful long-range strike that put Spurs in the lead.