Liverpool's win over West Ham United at the weekend was heralded as another big step toward making Anfield a fortress in the Premier League once again, but the victory was tempered by news of Steven Gerrard's injury ahead of a difficult run of games.
With only Cardiff City to play at Anfield in the next four fixtures, the Reds face trips to Champions League rivals Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea before the turn of the year—and worse news was to follow, after it emerged that influential midfielder Jordan Henderson could sit out at least one of those games, per Carl Markham of The Independent.
Henderson was stamped on by Kevin Nolan in the West Ham game, resulting in a red card for the Hammers captain, but more pressing for the Reds would be replacing two first-choice midfielders for a tough away trip to White Hart Lane at the weekend.
Gerrard out, Lucas in
In central midfield, it's fairly straightforward for the Reds. Lucas Leiva has lost his place to Joe Allen over the past couple of games but should slot straight back in alongside the Welshman in the absence of club captain Gerrard.
Those two should act as a reliable double pivot, protecting the defence and maintaining possession in deeper areas for the Reds against an impressive Spurs midfield which has plenty of pace, power and technical ability, regardless of which of their quartet play.
The one question mark will be whether Allen can reproduce the impressive recent form he has shown in the deepest controlling-midfield role when he is pushed back into a slightly more advanced "link" player role.
Lucas will inevitably operate deeper, so Allen will need to provide a constant supply of passes to the four most-attacking players in the team, something he's capable of doing but needs to prove in a big-game environment against Spurs.
Sticking with 4-2-3-1
Liverpool have cruised through the past couple of games against Norwich and West Ham using a fairly straightforward 4-2-3-1 formation. Philippe Coutinho has operated central behind striker Luis Suarez, with Raheem Sterling from the left and Henderson on the right.
There has naturally been a certain amount of rotation and fluidity in the front players, but that has been the basic framework of the side.
Presuming manager Brendan Rodgers opts to stick with that, the only remaining considerations should be over Henderson's fitness: Can he handle a physically demanding 90 minutes against a Spurs side who, despite not scoring bucketloads of goals, are a side with plenty of pace in them, who attack down the flanks and who manage a large number of shots each game?
In short, Spurs are an offensive-minded side who haven't been hitting the net with their shots.
The fact that they average more shots per game than any other club in the league (Liverpool are second, 17.1 to Spurs' 17.9) shows that the Reds will be under pressure to defend well at White Hart Lane, and the ability to track back, help out his defence and keep the team shape are all important attributes that Henderson brings to the team.
Being without him will not just rob the Reds of a stable part of their attacking work but also a key member of the defensive unit in terms of pressing high up the pitch, remaining tactically vigilant in transition phases and having the ability to counter-attack against Spurs in numbers and at pace.
Should Henderson be unavailable, there are three immediately obvious candidates to take his place on the right side in the same system.
Victor Moses has played a handful of times this season for Liverpool, but has fallen out of favour after a poor run of form, culminating in his dire display against Hull City. He can operate as a true wide player on that right side, giving the team width and pace in attack, but would be required to offer far more going the other way than he has shown so far.
There continues to be a clamour for Spanish youngster Luis Alberto to be handed a starting role in the team, but his seven league appearances so far have all been off the bench.
It appears fanciful that the 21-year-old will make his first league start away to Tottenham—but then, Rodgers did throw Sterling in against Manchester City last season, so it's not entirely without precedent.
Alberto would offer Liverpool plenty of creativity and control on the ball, something they'll no doubt be desperate for at times against Spurs, but he rather lacks pace, and his stamina and consistency during a top-flight game are yet to be really tested. The home game against Cardiff might be a better starting point for him before facing the bigger sides away from home.
Iago Aspas is the final alternative, short of a shock start for Jordon Ibe or a change in formation.
Aspas started the season in relatively good form but lost his way soon afterwards as the team went through a difficult spell of form despite still picking up wins—and his injury then didn't help matters.
The former Celta man offers a goal threat, works hard and is strong in possession, and perhaps is the best option for Rodgers to turn to as someone with a point to prove, who has plenty to play for and is a good all-round replacement for Henderson.
He might not have the natural inclination to be a wide man, but he has the attributes to contribute to the link-up play and has already shown in preseason that he can work well off Suarez. It will be a big decision for the manager if Henderson doesn't make the game, and in a fixture in which Liverpool cannot afford to be carrying any passengers, it's a decision he'll need to get right.
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