Liverpool travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday to take on Tottenham Hotspur, in the first of three vital away clashes for the Reds over the festive period.
Despite our 3-2 win over them in March, Spurs have had the better of our recent meetings, particularly at home; winning in all of our six previous visits to South London.
However, it’s not just big games at White Hart Lane that the Reds have fallen short in of late; since Brendan Rodgers’ arrival, Liverpool have won just two of 15 clashes against last season’s top six (a group which Spurs are a part of): clearly a record we must improve on to stand a chance of securing a Champion’s League qualification place in May.
Steven Gerrard will of course miss this weekend’s game with a hamstring injury he picked up after taking a shot against West Ham. Reports have suggested he will be sidelined for at least a month. Due to the Reds’ skipper being directly involved in over a quarter of our Premier League goals this season, it would be easy and understandable to assume Gerrard’s absence could dent our chances of picking up points over the next couple of weeks.
However, I think those fears could prove unfulfilled. Gerrard’s tendency to often play direct passes, sometimes detracts from and undermines Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy, subsequently disrupting our rhythm; a replacement in midfield could see us play with more cohesion and fluidity. Eight of the nine goals our captain has been involved in during this campaign have been from set-pieces, and while we could miss his ridiculously precise deliveries, perhaps an improvement in general play will see us rely less on dead-ball situations.
Furthermore, after scoring nine goals in our last two games, and with Luis Suarez unquestionably in the best form of his career, there is warranted belief amongst Liverpool supporters that we can take three points from a slightly unsettled Spurs side on Sunday. The aforementioned Suarez has scored an astonishing 15 Premier League goals already this term, giving him the highest strike-rate of any player in Europe, and perhaps significantly, his goal tally is the same as Tottenham have managed as a team this season.
Another cause of optimism ahead of this weekend was born in Liverpool’s 4-1 hammering of West Ham last Saturday: the Reds took 20 shots from inside the box during the 90 minutes, the most of any game so far under Brendan Rodgers. While some supporters may bemoan the fact that we only scored four goals from this many attempts, it certainly highlights our domination and control of the match – something which has been lacking for the majority of 2013/14 (despite positive results).
There is also encouraging news for Liverpool on the availability of tireless midfielder Jordan Henderson. Various media sources had naively and prematurely reported that the former England Under-21 captain would be added to our injury woes, after seeing him wearing a protective boot on his foot at Melwood earlier this week. Thankfully though, Brendan Rodgers banished any doubt over Henderson’s fitness on Thursday night, saying “Jordan trained so he’s fine. It was just precautionary [the boot] the last few days.”
Spurs approach Sunday’s game unbeaten in their last five matches (W4 D1) in all competitions. It is a record which may surprise people due to the negative portrayal of the club this season; it seems as if the media are almost willing Andre Villas-Boas to be unsuccessful after the departure of Gareth Bale in the summer. In fact, a win at the weekend would place them level on points with us and they have only once had a better points total at this stage of a season than they currently have. Things aren’t as desperate at Tottenham as is being made out.
It’s obvious that scoring goals in the Premier League has been Spurs’ main issue this campaign, with £26m summer arrival Roberto Soldado taking time to adapt to the Premier League, scoring four goals in 13 appearances so far – although he did manage a hat-trick against a fairly uninspired Anzhi side in the Europa League on Thursday. Despite his lean, domestic scoring record, he is the Londoners’ leading Premier League scorer this season.
The continued absence, through injury, of Jan Vertonghen could prove key on Sunday, and is something Reds’ fans should definitely take solace in. The Belgian is one of the most sophisticated defenders in Europe, comfortable with and without the ball, leading by example and will undoubtedly be missed by the home side. Elsewhere in defence, however, the energetic Danny Rose looks set for a return to the side at left-back, after stepping up his recovery from a long-term toe injury by playing 45 minutes against Anzhi on Thursday.
Predicting an outcome of Sunday’s clash is an almost impossible task, although there are a couple of relative certainties. I’m expecting an open, flowing game with both goalkeepers being worked incessantly. After all, Liverpool and Spurs have taken 17.1 and 17.9 shots per game so far this campaign, first and second most in the Premier League.
I’ve a feeling this one could be decided by a sudden moment of genius, and without Gareth Bale on the pitch, there is surely only one man who could provide that, isn’t there?