A difficult Liverpool debut for Alberto Moreno away to Manchester City on Monday was crowned when he slipped on the astroturf surround at the Etihad causing him to turn his ankle. He is a major doubt for Sunday’s fixture whilst Glen Johnson, who has a hip/thigh problem, is definietly out, meaning Liverpool could be without both the full-backs who began their last game. With Jon Flanagan injured and Daniel Agger sold, that leaves Liverpool extremely short of options and, to make matters worse, Martin Skrtel is a doubt with a knock. That could mean Kolo Toure partnering Dejan Lovren in the centre, with Javi Manquillo on one flank and Jose Enrique, now apparently fit after almost a year on the sidelines, on the other. Adam Lallana is in the squad but is unlikely to start. Spurs meanwhile, are missing just Roberto Soldado and Kyle Walker, which means Eric Dier is likely to continue at right-back.
It was a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool last season that left Andre Villas-Boas’s position untenable – and it says something both for Spurs’ strength in depth and how things have changed despite the apparent calm at the club this summer that only three players who started that game started the 4-0 victory over QPR on Sunday. It was just as grim at Anfield for Spurs, beaten 4-0 as they couldn’t cope with the pace and movement of an attacking Liverpool line-up in which Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho flanked Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
SPURS’ FRONT FOUR
A couple of months in to last season, with Spurs struggling to score goals, they had had more shots than any other team in the Premier League. The summer signings – the seven players brought in with the Gareth Bale money and an additional £20million or so – looked generally lost, and it seemed an extraordinary opportunity had been wasted. Patience, though, can be a tremendous virtue in football, and three of those new signings excelled on Sunday. Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli were fluid, quick and incisive, interchanging position at will. With Emmanuel Adebayor rehabilitated and looking interested, the front four were devastating. It was, it should be said, against a curiously passive QPR, but still, given Liverpool were defensively lax at City and have so many injuries, it’s hard to see how they can keep them out.
All four goals Liverpool have conceded this season have come from moves down their left, which suggests the issue may go deeper than Moreno’s moment of doziness against Manchester City. Johnson played at left-back against Southampton with Sterling on the left flank in a 4-2-3-1, while against City it was a 4-3-2-1, with Coutinho in an inside-left role and Joe Allen on the left of the three central midfielders. That doesn’t suggest one single problem (other, perhaps, the lack of a reliable left back – although it would be wrong to write off Moreno so quickly); it may be that the issue is rather that the prodigiously industrious Jordan Henderson operates on the right and his ability to track and cover ground naturally forces opponents down the other flank. Whatever the reason, the suggestion is that Lamela could thrive cutting in off that flank.
Brendan Rodgers has two problems for Sunday’s game. First of all, he must try to shield what is likely to be a makeshift back four, which might mean the use of three central midfielders – Steven Gerrard, Henderson and either Allen or Lucas Leiva. But he must also work out a way of bypassing the Spurs central midfield: Etienne Capoue and Nadil Bentaleb have looked supremely solid so far this season. Assuming Daniel Sturridge operates as a central striker and assuming Mario Balotelli is not yet deemed ready to start, that probably means using Sterling wide on the right, with Coutinho in a slightly narrower role on the left, creating fascinating and potentially decisive battles with the two full-backs, Danny Rose on the left and Eric Dier on the right.
The obvious bet is for Liverpool to concede again on their left, backing Spurs to score from that flank. The problem is that Spurs are so fluid, it could be any of Lamela (3.70 to score at any time), Eriksen (3.70) or Chadli (4.90) who takes advantage of Liverpool’s difficulties on that side. Liverpool’s midfield was able to impose itself on City’s for the first half hour on Monday, but once City had gone ahead, they looked extremely rickety at the back. Couple that with Spurs’ sharpness and it could be a surprisingly easy win for Tottenham: back them to win while giving Liverpool a goal start at 5.40.
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