Tottenham – Liverpool (Premier League)
Tottenham Hotspur will be entertaining second-placed Liverpool at White Hart Lane next Sunday, as the Premier League enters its most exciting and congested holiday season, where a jampacked schedule often makes or breaks teams and their ambitions.
Spurs have been in good form lately, following up their 2-2 draw against Manchester United in their own turf with two come-from-behind wins on the trot in the Premier League (against Fulham and Sunderland) and a 4-1 dead rubber against AnzhiMakhachkala in the Europa League, where Roberto Soldado scored his first hat-trick in the club’s jersey. The two league wins have allowed the Lilywhites to climb up to sixth, a mere two points adrift from fourth-placed Manchester City. Despite the many rumours about his imminent departure and the talk about crisis – Spurs are one point better off than they were after 15 games last season but have scored 13 fewer goals –, André Villas-Boas refused to take his eye off the ball and led his team to a decent patch of form, but it’s no less true that his team tends to struggle when they play in front of their own supporters, with just three wins in nine Premier League matches (scoring just four goals from open play and losing to Newcastle and West Ham United in the process), with the crowd often unsettled and unafraid to make their feelings heard. While there are some who claim there is a Gareth Bale-sized hole in the team’s attack, it bears mentioning that by this time last season, the Welshman was far from his steamrolling self that often got Spurs out of trouble as the 2013 wore on. Even though the team has yet to gel (Soldado being a prime example), they have not exactly been afraid to shoot, taking even more attempts than Liverpool (253 against 247). The difference seems to reside in the positions from where those shots are taken, since Spurs have scored 15 to Liverpool’s 34, i.e. more than half on roughly the same number of shots. In fact, only Aston Villa have scored fewer goals at home than the Londoners, which speaks volumes about their struggles up front. The defence, conversely, have excelled throughout the season and, despite the anomaly that was the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City, boast the second best defensive record of the competition, just bettered by Everton. On the injury front, André Villas-Boas has brought back Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen for Thursday’s Europa League match, but he will be wary of making them do too much too soon. Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul will miss this one out, while Chiriches is still in doubt.
Probable line-up: Lloris – Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose – Sandro, Dembélé – Lennon, Paulinho, Chadli – Defoe
Liverpool, in turn, have been in fine home form this season, mustering seven wins in eight matches, but have been less proficient whenever they’re on the road, with just two successful trips in the Premier League so far. All of this brings an exciting element of surprise to the match, since both teams will meet in what seems to be their least favourite environments. Furthermore, things have not looked bright throughout Brendan Rogers’ 18-month period at the helm of the Liverpudlians whenever there’s a team from the so-called top six, with just two wins – and neither of them away from home. Even including home fixtures, the Reds have only won twice in 15 matches against the six strongest opponents. Still, Liverpool’s home form has been good enough to get them flying high and scoring almost at will, just four points off Arsenal. Things become even more serious if one bears in mind that the upcoming month brings matches at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, for what might well be a defining period for Rogers and his Liverpool if they’re to keep their hopes high, a situation made worse by injuries to key players Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard. As if that weren’t enough, the team have conceded two or more goals in those 15 matches and only once were they able to keep a clean sheet in the second half of these fixtures. However, 2013 has definitely brought good news, since Liverpool have improved from 17 league defeats in 2012 to just six this calendar year. While their defence has struggled a bit more lately (just one clean sheet in the last 12 Premier League matches, after four in as many matches before that), goalscoring machine Luís Suárez seems to be in the form of his life, having scored as many goals himself as the whole of the Tottenham side (still, just 3 away from home). Under Rogers, the Uruguayan has celebrated 38 times in 43 games, compared to a paltry 15 in 44 under Kenny Dalglish. As far as injuries are concerned, captain Steven Gerrard, José Enrique, Sebastián Coates and Daniel Sturridge won’t be able to offer their contribution to their team.
Probable line-up: Mignolet – Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan – Allen, Lucas – Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling – Suárez
AVB’s Spurs will definitely be buoyed by the stat that shows they have won the last six matches against Liverpool in all competitions at White Hart Lane. Liverpool’s record away from home will certainly give the Londoners an extra boost, as well as Brendan Rogers’ track record when playing against stronger sides. However, Spurs have not exactly been the most prolific team whey playing at home. The second point of interest will be how both teams present themselves, since Spurs feel most comfortable defending and ceding initiative to their opponents, while Liverpool will most likely welcome the opportunity to badger the home team.