Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez go toe-to-toe in Premier League battle this weekend as Tottenham Hotspur face Liverpool in a match that will have far-reaching ramifications for both clubs and the battle to finish in the top four in particular.
Bale and Suarez have been in electric form this season with both players wading in with 16 and 21 goals respectively. The duo have been nothing less than sensational all season and will undoubtedly challenge with Manchester United's Robin van Persie for player of the season.
Spurs and Andre Villas Boas have reaped the huge benefits of Bale's phenomenal recent form as they now sit in third place on 54 points, a full 12 points ahead of the Reds who still harbour distant ambitions of finishing in the top four.
Who will Win?
The White Hart Lane based team have only lost two games from their last 23 in all competitions with Bale scoring 11 goals in his last nine games. Against Liverpool, they have only lost once in their last eight meetings.
While Bale has hit all the headlines, and rightly so, for his impeccable and incredible form, huge credit must go to Spurs' defence who have only conceded 12 goals from the last 16 games. The main reasons for this stiffening in defence has been Jan Vertonghen.
The Belgian defender has been supreme of late and looks every inch the player fans hoped he would turn out to be. Composed on the ball and in the tackle, Vertonghen has mainly featured at centre-back but when asked he has slotted in perfectly at left-back. If anything, his choosing at left-back gives Spurs a much better defensive balance than with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who can be prone to mistakes.
This will be an area of concern for Villas-Boas as Liverpool have the players capable of hurting most teams down the flanks. However, since Daniel Sturridge was signed in January, the Reds are far more likely to attack through the centre with Suarez and Sturridge as their wide players tuck in to strengthen their slow underbelly in midfield.
Here the wide players can protect Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. They will have a huge task on their hands this weekend though as they come face-to-face with the most athletic central midfielder in the Premier League, Mousa Dembele.
Dembele has been nothing but a sensation for Spurs since he joined from Fulham last August. His record as a player, for club and country, reads as having lost just three times from 35 matches. Importantly for Spurs only one of those defeats has come in the league, the others were in the FA Cup against Leeds and for Fulham against Manchester United.
Big, strong, quick, fierce in the tackle, a superb passer of the ball and a deceptively brilliant dribbler, Dembele is just about the first name on the team sheet for Andre Villas-Boas and Spurs. He will offer Gerrard and Lucas the kind of opponent they will not have faced in many a year.
Liverpool's recent form has seen them lose three from their last 10 games including a very disappointing 2-0 defeat to Steve Clarke's West Bromwich Albion. Importantly though, Liverpool have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight home matches in the Premier League.
Their form took a huge upswing when Sturridge was snapped up in January from Chelsea. Since then the youngster has contributed four goals and an assist from five games. But it is his intelligent link up play with the team and Suarez in particular that has really shone.
Playing as the pinnacle of Rodgers' 4-4-2 hybrid as Suarez drops deep to maraud behind the front lines, Sturridge can come short or go long. In this respect he has taken huge pressure from Suarez's shoulders but also his midfield's.
They are no longer under pressure to unlock defences or to score goals as those tasks are now shared between the strikers, the second coming of the SAS.
Brendan Rodgers will be more than aware of the vulnerability of his team. Liverpool are largely one paced through the middle and this is perhaps where Spurs are strongest. When the two clubs last met in November, the Reds dominated possession as usual.
However, Spurs controlled the game and restricted the Reds to just four shots on target. Rodgers chose to use a 4-3-3 formation that day but Villas-Boas' team dominated midfield and as such Suarez was denied the ball.
This time around, especially if Sturridge is fit, he will be more likely to employ a 4-4-2 and to use Suarez and the ex-Chelsea man high up top in an effort to break through Tottenham's vulnerable offside trap.
This season has seen Spurs catch more opponents offside than any other. Interestingly, Liverpool have been caught offside more than any other team. This shows that the Reds' strikers are permanently on the shoulder of the last defender and can be caught out by intelligent defending.
At the back Liverpool have proved extremely poor. It is very significant that Rodgers has gone back to using Jamie Carragher of late. The 35-year-old's legs have been gone for a number of years now, but he remains the only true leader Liverpool have at the back.
He is extremely vulnerable to strong centre-forwards like Emmanuel Adebayor as well as smaller agile players like Jermain Defoe so Liverpool will have to shut the Spurs supply lines down early.
With battle-lines being drawn all over the pitch, perhaps, the most intriguing battle of all will be between the two managers.
Both Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers are in their debut seasons. One manager started out the season under all kinds of scrutiny while the other was given a free ride. Some eight months later and the tables have turned. Villas-Boas is now being hailed for his development of Gareth Bale as an attacking force while Brendan Rodgers is being compared with David Brent.
Between the Reds looking to get back on track and make a statement of intent to their fans, Spurs looking to consolidate third place and also make a statement to their fans, the differences in footballing philosophy and playing styles and the difference in player styles in defence midfield and attack, this game could turn out to be the match of the season.
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