10th March, 2013; 16:00 GMT
It’s the hare and tortoise story. Liverpool have slowly taken their steps forward this season and through the course of their climb, have improved on several areas of their game when compared to the start of the season. But, the story here has a twist. The Reds cannot afford to slow down with ten games left in the season. There is no break. The ever expanding sight of Champions League football should and has given Liverpool the impetus to drive ahead. Given that there is now a blank instead of Europa League football, Brendan Rodgers will encourage his side to give it more than they have in the last few games. Even otherwise, few would disagree that Liverpool can do better, considering Tottenham are coming to town.
Tottenham (the hare) are on a hot streak domestically as well as in Europe. Their recent triumph over Arsenal in the North London Derby was followed by a sound 3-0 thrashing of Inter Milan at White Hart Lane in midweek. Tottenham have leapfrogged into third and are now knocking on the doors of Manchester City who are just five points ahead. While it definitely looks like Villa-Boas is doing a better job than he did at another English club, what’s good to see is that he hasn’t tried to change the Tottenham style of play. The whole team has come together just at the right time and are looking the more dangerous side on any pitch. With 14 points out of a possible 18 in their last six games, Tottenham will arrive at Anfield, looking to do the double over Brendan Rodgers’ team.
Team News & Tactics
The Reds welcome Daniel Sturridge and Martin Skrtel back to the squad ahead of this weekend’s fixture. Sturridge missed the game against Wigan due to a thigh problem he suffered during training while Skrtel makes his return from a knee injury. The Slovakian however is most likely to make the bench while the veteran Carragher will continue to commander the Liverpool backline.
Martin Kelly (ACL knee injury) and Fabio Borini (dislocated shoulder) continue to remain the long-term absentees for the Merseyside club.
While the defensive four is not going to be a difficult choice for Brendan Rodgers, there is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Glen Johnson on Sunday. The England international will be tasked to shut out Gareth Bale’s menacing runs along the left. This could mean that he will play a slightly more withdrawn role just to be on the safer side and not leave the likes of Carragher and Agger in the open behind him, in case Bale makes one of his surging runs.
The real headache for Rodgers is in central midfield – while Gerrard and Lucas are sure starters, the third element’s presence will define Rodgers’ approach to the game. Starting Joe Allen means Liverpool are going for a more modest approach – waiting on the opposition to slip and grab that opportunity to capitalize on the game, all the while doing its best to maintain possession in the opponent’s half.
On the other hand, starting Jordan Henderson sends across a bold message. Liverpool will look to match Tottenham’s attacking threat with Henderson filling in those gaps between Gerrard and the front three, allowing the Liverpool captain to dictate the game from a more central position. This means quick counter-attacks and several long-range, cross-field passes.
It remains to be seen who the lucky one will be but remember that the last time these two sides met, Liverpool got off to a very slow start and were caught napping very early on, which allowed Tottenham to capitalize on the game. The Reds lost the plot as soon Bale scored Tottenham’s second goal in the 16th minute. This is something Rodgers needs to keep in mind ahead of the return fixture.
We see just one change in the front three which started against Wigan last weekend – Daniel Sturridge starting in place of Stewart Downing on the right.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson; Coutinho, Suarez, Sturridge
While Villa-Boas will be breathing the same air of confidence as his team in the dressing room, he will have to tweak his team a bit for the game against Liverpool. Aaron Lennon picked up a hamstring knock in Spurs’ midweek Europa game against Inter Milan and is likely to miss Sunday’s clash.
To make things worse, Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey are doubtful for the trip to the North-West. Younes Kaboul and Sandro continue to remain Tottenham’s long-term injury concerns.
On the bright side, Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor will make his return to the squad after shaking off a knee injury he picked up in the game against Arsenal and although Moussa Dembele had to be substituted at half-time against Inter Milan, he is expected to make it to the starting XI against Liverpool.
With Lennon likely to miss this game, there are two options for Villa-Boas while changing his setup. One is to start Gylfi Sigurdsson on the right with the continuing support of Kyle Walker and bring in a second striker in the shape of Adebayor to support Jermain Defoe. The other option is to start with Lewis Holtby in place of Aaron Lennon and continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation and the lone striker.
Given the gravity of this fixture, Villa-Boas should be looking for the more attacking setup since Tottenham are playing away from home. A 4-4-2 to counter Liverpool’s 4-3-3 could just give Spurs the edge over their opponents. If that extra man in midfield turns out to be Gareth Bale, then there is no telling the kind of damage he can cause with his current form.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Sigurdsson, Parker, Dembele, Bale; Defoe, Adebayor
- Gareth Bale is the first Welsh player to have scored 16 goals in a single Premier League campaign.
- Suarez (8) and Bale (7) are the top scoring Premier League players in 2013.
- Liverpool and Tottenham have averaged the most shots per Premier League game this season (excluding blocked) 14.0 and 13.1 respectively.
- Luis Suarez is only the third Liverpool player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season (after Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres).
- Spurs are unbeaten in 12 consecutive Premier League games for the first time.
- The Reds have kept clean sheets in six of their last eight Premier League games at Anfield.
Stats Courtesy: Yahoo! Eurosport
Players to Watch Out For
Whether you are a neutral or not, for this fixture, this feisty encounter at Anfield on Sunday sets the stage for two of the hottest stars in the Premier League this season – Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
He is just eight goals short of breaking the legendary Robbie Fowler’s record of 28 goals in a Premier League campaign for Liverpool. Suarez has contributed more this season than what the Liverpool folklore would have imagined. His game shows a marked improvement in his finishing, something that doesn’t come as naturally to him as his dribbling.
Rodgers has also defended the Uruguayan following the bitter reputation he has earned amongst rival teams, managers and referees after arriving in England. The fact that Liverpool’s No.7 is turning in the shots this season with minimal fuss and maximum focus is indicative of how far he has come as a footballer in just two seasons in a new country.
He will definitely look to link up with Coutinho this weekend and wreak havoc in the Tottenham camp. With six goals in his last three games, there is hardly any contest as to where your eyes will be glued if you’re a Liverpool supporter.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
Time and again, Gareth Bale has raised the bar at Tottenham and by doing so, has raised his own stock. With ten goals in his last eight games, Bale is sure to walk out on the pitch looking to launch a blitzkrieg on Liverpool.
The 4-4-2 formation will also allow Bale to drift into the center and behind the front duo – something that has paid rich dividends for Spurs as well as the Welshman. Watch out for bursts of pace and slick passing and quick shots on goal while Bale is around.
Liverpool 1 – 1 Tottenham
Here are two teams who have been playing eye-catching football all season. Liverpool are aiming for that elusive fourth spot while there is just no-turning back for Tottenham, who will look for a strong second-place finish. For reasons of their own, this game is no doubt going to be an electric one for Liverpool and Spurs fans.
While the Reds will have to throw in everything they’ve got to stop Bale & Co, they have a good chance of taking something from this game due to the absence of Lennon. With one person less to worry about, Rodgers will be hoping that the visitors cause minimal damage and not hamper their impressive League run in the last six games.
Blast from the Past