Tottenham vs Liverpool: Battle for 4th Place
This weekend Tottenham Hotpsur entertain Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Both sides will be in the hunt for the coveted fourth place finish in the Premier League and the promise of Champions League football next season.
Whatever the result of this game, it will definitely set the tone between the two for the rest of the season.
Liverpool come into this fixture with a mixed start to the league after taking only seven points from a possible 12. Whilst wins against a depleted Arsenal and somewhat non-existent Bolton Wanderers have given them an early and well-needed 6 points, an opening-day draw at home to Sunderland as well as an away loss to an extremely solid and direct Stoke City has showed some weaknesses within the side, weaknesses which maybe have been made worse due to the departure of Portuguese deep-lying play-maker Raul Meireles.
Tottenham started their league season a week later than the Scouse outfit after their opener against Everton was cancelled due to the mid-August London riots.
Whatever effect this false start had on them they lost in both of their following matches away to Man Utd and then at home to Man City, being beaten 3-0 and 5-1 respectively. However after the closure of the transfer window and securing Scott Parker, Emmanuel Adebayor and of course keeping talismanic play-maker Luka Modric, Spurs managed to group together and comfortably beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Molinuex with the Togolese hit-man Adebayor scoring a debut goal in the process.
Please enjoy this slideshow as I go through the two opposing sides and offer my prediction as to how the match will pan out.
It has been said that a good goal-keeper can save a team at least 10 points a season.
This is a game where that ability will be needed most. Both sides have strong goalkeepers which from a strikers point of view, can only be bad news. We'll start with the home side's Brad Freidel.
He left the Midlands club in the summer and seems to be Harry Redknapp's No. 1 after a disastrous 2010-11 for his Brazilian competition, Heurelho Gomes.
Whilst Freidel is a league veteran at the age of 40 with over 400 appearances with English clubs, he's shown no signs of slowing down just yet.
Spurs will surely be reliant on his quick reactions and shot-stopping abilities if they are to keep Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt out. However, if Redknapp is to field Gomes then Spurs could be in real trouble. There is no doubting his ability, he showed the quality of keeper he is the season they finished fourth, a season he was a large instrument to their success in. However he doesn't look set to regain that form anytime soon and Spurs fans will be hoping he's well and truly planted to the bench on Sunday.
Protecting the Liverpool goal will ever-expectantly be Pepe Reina. Whilst he's not made quite as many appearances as Freidel, he's certainly in the same class as the American, if not better. He's been the heart and soul of Liverpool's defensive work for the majority of his career at the club, winning three Barclay's Golden Gloves in the process. Whilst he has been prone to the odd mistake over the last year and a half, he's certainly not become a liability and must surely be loving life under King Kenny.
With that said, neither side has a distinct advantage over the other here and whilst either side may win the game thanks to their goalkeeper, neither side looks like losing it because of them.
It's no secret that Tottenham's weakest department is their defence.
Whilst it's solid enough to attain a top-six finish, question marks have been raised over whether or not it's good enough to oust Liverpool and Arsenal for fourth place. I
t was a big blow for Spurs when they couldn't complete the signing of Gary Cahill on deadline day. An even bigger blow for them has been the loss of captain Michael Dawson after he was ruled out for two months after the clash against Wolves.
Liverpool's weakest link at the back has to be Jamie Carragher. Whilst he embodies everything you'd want in a one club player, these days he no longer has the blend of speed and pace you'd want in a defender playing in a fast moving, oft-pressing, attacking, Liverpool side. He was caught out a number of times last season and this season a lot of fans have shown caution towards what exactly he offers them.
Both sides seem quite close at the full back positions. Martin Kelly has made the Liverpool right back position his own and looks to be a very good prospect, however he'll certainly face one of the biggest tests of his season as he prepares to shut out Welshman Gareth Bale who may not always be consistent, but definitely has the ability to rip open a defence as shown last season with his hat-trick against Internazionale at the San Siro.
I personally would prefer Vedran Corluka at right-back over the youngster Kelly if I were to compare the two, as well Spurs' youngster Kyle Walker. Kelly is a very solid right-back, however he lacks the ability to read play like Corluka can, as well as not being able to tackle with the same quality and precision.
At left-back both sides have quality options in Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Jose Enrique. Neither are particularly error prone and both can offer a lot of width and a good ball into the box when going forward. However I would personally prefer Enrique over Assou-Ekotto, looking at them both I think only one of them would look slightly out of place in a Man Utd or Chelsea starting eleven and that man wouldn't be the Spaniard Enrique, who surely has to be on his way to securing the left back position at international level as maybe the quality of former club Newcastle was a hindrance to his chances.
Looking at what both sides can offer at central defence, they do again look very close. As I said above, Jamie Carragher is definitely the weak link in Liverpool's defence, even when being partnered by the solid Daniel Agger. What may suit Carragher at White Hart Lane is that Liverpool will be more reluctant to push forward and openly attack Spurs, playing a deeper defensive line, however he will have to deal with the movement of Emmanuel Adebayor, Jermaine Defoe, or Rafael Van der Vaart, depending on his fitness, as well as Niko Kranjcar or Luka Modric. Spurs will look to pull Liverpool's defence apart as much as possible and this is where Carragher's legs may fail him and his teammates. Whilst Spurs have lost their defensive rock in Michael Dawson, they do have both Younes Kaboul and Ledley King to replace him. Both strong, fast and smart defenders, they definitely have the physical attributes to compete with Luis Suarez, Stuart Downing and Andy Carroll, however when playing against a side on the counter attack you can be hit at anytime as Napoli proved against Man City on Wednesday and this ability Liverpool have could prove deadly against the north Londoners.
The defences are quite close, at full strength I'd probably have Spurs edge ahead of Liverpool here but with the players predicted above playing, both even each other out.
So far the teams have been evenly matched which can usually mean they'll cancel each other out, however I feel Tottenham will go into Sunday's game with a superior midfield, well, depending on what frame of mind Luka Modric is in. It is likely that Spurs will line up with a 4-man midfield, similar to what Liverpool may line-up with. So let's start with some direct comparisons shall we?
Personally I think Liverpool made a big mistake in selling Raul Meireles, his range of passing and ability to keep possession is far superior to his Scottish replacement Charlie Adam. Whilst Adam has the ability to pick out a brilliant Hollywood pass and of course take set pieces with power, technique and precision, he is lacking in the rest of his game. He's not great at controlling the pace of a game and was dispossessed a lot last season as Blackpool captain. Whilst I don't want to call on a friendly match alone to determine his ability, his quality was shown in the exhibition game at the Emirates stadium where Scotland played Brazil. The Brazil on show was definitely not the Brazil of recent years, with a midfield that I have no doubts in thinking that if they were Brazilian, Luka Modric and Raul Meireles would easily command a place in the midfield, or at least compete for it. However in that game Charlie Adam was completely out of his depth, too slow, not accurate enough and too clumsy. It was definitely a level too big to step into for the tenacious Scot.
I feel that if Luka Modric is in the starting eleven come Sunday then he will be the man dictating play and creating chances on goal for Spurs. His passing is immaculate, he works himself into brilliant positions when off the ball, always looking to exploit space and look for open spaces for the wingers to run into. There aren't many better play-makers than him in the league at the moment, if any, so having him in the team will be a massive bonus for Tottenham.
Lucas Leiva has come on a hell of a lot over the last few years. When he first joined Liverpool he was by most fans deemed surplus to requirements, a failure of a transfer if ever there was one. However now the 24-year old commands respect from the Anfield faithful and has made a reputation as one of the league's top defensive midfielders. He is a solid defender, strong in the tackle, yet smart, quick and agile. He's not shy on the ball and can help keep possession well if need be, as if a Brazilian wouldn't be able to do that.
However Spurs' opposite has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league for the past two years now. Scott Parker finally managed to get a deadline day move to Tottenham and was thrown into the team straight away against Wolves. He offers good tackling ability, brilliant work-rate, can pass the ball around comfortably and can also turn defence into attack within seconds with quick runs through opposition defences. As defensive midfielders I'd say both are quite evenly matched, however I'd prefer Parker in my team as he has the ability to if need be, score goals at vital moments and offer support when going forward.
Wing play is vital to both clubs style of play, stretching opposition teams and attacking them with pace and power is key to how they break down opposing defences and inevitably win games. On the right for Tottenham is Aaron Lennon, fast, tricky and with a sweet right foot is always a danger. His ability to cut in and score the odd goal also goes in his favour as he's able to mix his game up. Three or four years ago it would have been appropriate to say that he had no end product, would run endlessly but not deliver anything, or as I like to put it, he'd act as a speedboat without a driver. However over the past two years he has improved immensely, before his long-term injury that kept him out for a few months in the 09/10 season, he was leading the Premier League assists charts as well as chipping in with his fair share of goals. Definitely a key factor into Tottenham's fourth place finish. Last season that good run in the form of statistics didn't quite make for easy reading as he only completed 3 Premier League assists, however when taking into account the lack of goals Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko scored, as well as the fact that Tottenham's leading goal scorer was Rafael Van der Vaart, a man whose best ability is playing with the ball at his feet rather than on his head, you can see why the ex-Leeds United wingers season record in statistics was so poor.
Whilst Spurs have an out and out winger on their right hand side, Liverpool don't. Currently the position is being competed for by Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Jordan Henderson. I'd expect Dirk Kuyt to start this game, he's made four appearances already this season and whilst he has no real speed and isn't a conventional winger, he's extremely hard working and is able to support the strikers in a role where he is a threat to the opposition goal. With Kuyt the Liverpool formation turns into a more lopsided 4-3-3, however defensively he offers enough create the two banks of four they'll need to prevent the likes of Adebayor, Van der Vaart and Luka Modric opening them up and running riot.
On the left Spurs have the highly rated and talented, but not so consistent, Gareth Bale. Whilst he's never one for creating highly rated statistics, his speed and lightening quick acceleration make him one of the worst types of wingers to come up against. He's also got an extremely powerful and accurate cross which allows him to fizz crosses into the box with precision, something Emmanuel Adebayor will thrive on.
Despite a hefty £20m transfer fee, Stewart Downing seems to be pressure free this season, he's by far been their most impressive new signing, he's not only cemented himself into the Liverpool line-up, he's also earned himself an England call-up against Wales at Wembley. After scoring eight times last season, he proved he can not only perform out-wide, but come in and help the strikers with goals. His flexibility to swap wings and cut in if need be is going to be well needed on Sunday as King Kenny will look to have his side manipulate the Spurs defence anyway possible.
When it comes to the striking options, I feel that Tottenham are firmly superior in this department. Luis Suarez is no doubt a top, top quality player. He has speed, agility, guile, power and accuracy, as far as supporting strikers go, he's a dream player for any manager to have. However Liverpool's £35m acquisition in Andy Carroll is yet to really come off for them, whilst he scored a fantastic 11 goals in 20 appearances for Newcastle last season, since his transfer to the north west he's only managed 3 goals in 14 games. 6 goals in 4 league games is a respectable tally for Liverpool, however like Stoke, they're going to come up against a tough side with a strong defence and will need all the help going forward that they can get, and they'll be hoping Carroll can find that form that saw him turn into an overnight sensation, however that does look likely, unfortunately for the Reds.
Spurs seem to have finally found the right player to partner Rafael Van der Vaart upfront, the Dutchman scored 13 league goals last season and notched up 9 assists, if there was ever a more effective and realistic target for Spurs to bring in to partner him, it would have been the ex-Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor. The 27-year old scored 13 goals in 34 games last season whilst getting 14 in 31 games the season before. Whilst he's yet to hit the form he showed at Arsenal where he managed 30 goals throughout one season, he's certainly remained prolific. With the support of wingers Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, as well as support from Van der Vaart and Luka Modric, the supply of goals definitely won't be short and if he can stay on form, 30 goals this season wouldn't be out of the question. If he goes up against Jamie Carragher this Sunday there's a strong chance he'll not only out-power the Scouser, but out-pace him and beat keeper Pepe Reina. He's the striker Spurs have been crying out for and he's definitely the striker that could leave opposition fans crying at the end of a game if all goes well for him.
Van der Vaart picked up an injury that was expected to have him out for up to six weeks, but it's been said that he could should be fit for the Liverpool game. If he can work up a good partnership with Adebayor straight away then Liverpool will definitely struggle.
There's no doubting that this will be a close encounter, both sides have strong defences as well as menacing attacks, with the attacking options on show I can see a lot of goals in this game. The midfield will be an important component to either sides success, however I can only see Tottenham controlling it, allowing them to open up a barrage of attacks on the Liverpool goal.
I believe Emmanuel Adebayor will score tomorrow as Spurs secure a 3-1 win, Luis Suarez will get an equalizing goal however it won't be enough to stop Spurs from marching on towards the well needed 3 points that victory will bring them.