Liverpool vs Tottenham Preview: Merseyside holds the key to North London’s throne
The game of thrones in North London seems set to change course this season. With pure dominance of the Red and White in the last 17 years, the Lilywhites this time around look set to bag what they say has been rightfully theirs from the time the Gooners moved north of the river.
And what better place to start the final phase of the battle than in a region that has recently witnessed a transition of its own. Merseyside had got used to be painted Red by the European dominance of Rafa’s Liverpool. Though the club never won a Premier league honour, the folks in Merseyside considered their finish above the Evertonian Blues a title in itself.
Spurs are undoubtedly in their best form of the season, and unless AVB is offered the Portuguese national coach role in the next 2 days, Spurs will not suffer a downfall as they did under similar circumstances with Harry last season.
Liverpool’s league position and stats might show them far from the top 4, but these past couple of months would have proven highly encouraging for their fans. If the fiasco in first half of the season was put down to Rodgers’ errors in the transfer window, the Scotsman has more than made up for those in the Winter window. His buys of Sturridge, and more specifically Coutinho, have brightened up future prospects for the Reds.
Team news doesn’t look too bright for either of the teams. Spurs have had an overload of fixtures in the past weeks, with Arsenal last Sunday and Inter Milan slain in midweek. But AVB’s priorities will be obviously the EPL games, even with a trip to San Siro on Thursday.
Dembele was taken off injured in the Arsenal game, but has been reported to be back in training. Adebayor was also stretchered of in the same game, but luckily for AVB, Jermaine Defoe chose to return back from injury in time.
Liverpool are on a tumultuous run themselves, after having thrashed Swansea and Norwich in recent weeks. But the Reds have been on the verge of unpredictability throughout the season, as was seen in their West Brom defeat in the midst of a winning streak.
Brendan Rodgers will get Sturridge back from injury and he will directly go into the starting line. Coutinho is another one to have made a quick fire start to his Liverpool career, and will start on the left side of midfield. Joe Allen will be the one to make way for Danny.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1) : Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, Downing, Suarez, Sturridge
Tottenham (4-2-3-1) : Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekkotu, Parker, Dembele, Siggurdson, Bale, Lennon, Defoe
First thoughts of the game have to go directly in Gareth Bale’s direction. The Welshman has been making headlines for all the right reasons this time of the year. Though in the Arsenal game we didn’t cut him much slack, mainly due to his much higher up positioning; but the fact of the matter is that Bale has been remarkable while played through the centre. So in a pretty obvious decision, Rodgers is likely to play Lucas Leiva in a deep lying role to cover Bale.
Coutinho’s influence, Sturridge’s return changes the scene
Playing Lucas Leiva deeper would have normally left Gerrard with a lot of responsibility in the centre. With Dembele and Parker the other 2 Spurs’ midfielders outnumbering Stevie G, it will be left to Coutinho to drift into the centre from the left. The young Brazilian will be quick to adapt to this role as he was seen doing in the Norwich game. His link up play with Suarez in that game was delightful, and also the ease with which he was beating the right back to put in crosses for Downing coming in from the left will leave Walker backing off.
But that’s where the difference lies when Rodgers also adds Sturridge to the mix. This now makes Suarez shift into the No.10 role and Sturridge gets the responsibility to pull away the defender to one edge of the box in order to make space from Suarez’s trickery. This movement and positioning of Suarez in the 4-4-1-1 rarely gives Coutinho the space or freedom to feed in the front man. He will eventually get crowded out from the centre and will get shifted to the wide left in order to drag away the full back, as was seen in the 1st half of the Swansea game.
Spurs shift to a deep midfield, Gylfi changes the emphasis
Spur’s midfield on the other hand played a very deep role against Arsenal. That was done to cut off the space between the lines for Cazorla. Santi Cazorla started that game from the left, and in a role quite similar to Coutinho, kept drifting to the centre. This tactic of playing a playmaker from the wings will again make the duo of Parker and Dembele stay deep, and add to that the prospect of Suarez pressing from the midfield, it leaves counter attack as the only option for AVB.
Apart from Bale, there does exist another player who is standing out in recent games for Spurs. Gylfi Siggurdson has started to affect games better while playing on the left. Here again we have a playmaker of-sorts who has been positioned out wide. The Icelandic international although has a different role as was seen in the Arsenal game. He is often seen drifting in to the centre with Dembele to provide support that Bale mostly does not. Other than that, his central drift often sees Bale and Lennon make diagonal runs past the last defender, which again proved vital against Arsenal.
So Rodgers will definitely play Downing on the right in order to cover up for the attack minded Johnson, rather than opting for the young blood of Sterling. Downing will be told to stick on the Assou-Ekkotu’s overlapping runs whenever Gylfi drifts to the centre. Another option could see Jordan Henderson come in at that position, which gives Gerrard more support in the centre against Siggurdson’s added presence. This would leave the task of facing Assou-Ekkotu to the right back Johnson.
The midfield battle seems to the one where the game shall be decided. The manner in which the 2 opposite numbers, Lucas Leiva and Scott Parker, deal with the pace and shooting of Bale and the trickery and feints of Suarez respectively, is where the game will be conquered.
If not for Everton’s FA cup game, Arsenal’s EPL clash against the Blues would have been played simultaneous to this game. This then would truly have been the day when the fate of London gets written by Merseysiders.