Liverpool welcome Spurs to Anfield on Sunday in a match that, at least on paper, will be one of their most difficult the rest of the way.
In terms of matches that actually have some sort of excitement attached, tomorrow's isn't quite as horrifying as the Manchester United fixtures or the matchups with Chelsea over the past few seasons. It's not because Spurs aren't in the same class as those sides--there's an argument to be made that they're close to being on par with United, while nobody's arguing that Chelsea's in the same class as Spurs--but for whatever reason, this one's posed the opportunity to at least enjoy the prospect of having an important-seeming match on the immediate horizon.
There's still the nagging narrative about Liverpool's failures against sides near the top of table, though, and that's not going away until they win matches like tomorrow's. Breezing past lower-half opposition has been fun to watch, with Liverpool putting up goals for fun in the matches that they have won, but matches that are contested more closely have rarely produced victories for Liverpool, and Spurs' visit should produce ninety-plus minutes that are tighter than what Liverpool had to deal with in wins over Swansea and Wigan.
That requires that both sides hold up their end of the bargain, which, given Spurs' recent form, looks a certainty on the visitor's end of things. They've been terrific in league, unbeaten in twelve and winners of their last four. They found their way through a slight dip that saw them draw three straight, two of which came away from White Hart Lane against QPR and Norwich City. Successive one-goal wins against Newcastle, West Ham, and Arsenal followed, and their 3-0 win over a lackluster Inter on Thursday only continued their string of good results.
Aside from the long-term injury for Sandro (who was very, very good earlier this season), Andre Villas-Boas has a nearly full-strength squad, with Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey the only concerns after the former was injured against Inter and the latter failing to recover from a calf injury. They've overcome the lack of a consistent goalscorer up front through the terrific form of Gareth Bale, who's supported either Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor from a more central attacking position. The arrival of Lewis Holtby gave them another skilled option throughout attacking midfield, Gylfi Sigurdsson has come on of late, and Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele have partnered well in central midfield. Their back four--subject to endless talk about vulnerability due to Villas-Boas' preference for a high line--have been solid, with Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto doing well in front of the impressive Hugo Lloris.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Henderson Coutinho
Yesterday Brendan Rodgers cleared up the injury situation, which should see only Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly missing out. Both Daniel Sturridge and Martin Skrtel were deemed fit enough for inclusion after missing the Wigan match, and no new injuries were suffered during the 4-0 win or this past week of training.
Skrtel being declared fit doesn't necessarily mean he'll start, though, and I'd be surprised if he made the eleven in place of Jamie Carragher. The Slovakian might have the edge in terms of quickness, which is important against a Spurs side with plenty of it, but Rodgers is committed to Carragher for what's left of the long haul. It all adds up to a defensive unit that's become standard---Pepe Reina in goal (and hopefully intent on continuing the form he showed at the DW), Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique at right- and left-back, and Carragher and Daniel Agger in central defense.
We know that Lucas and Steven Gerrard will start in midfield, leaving the only uncertainty as to who--if anyone--joins them. No surprise that I'll hope it's Jordan Henderson, this time in a more advanced role, with Joe Allen dropping out of the side. If Sturridge is ready from the start, though, I don't know that either of Henderson or Allen is included.
Assuming Sturridge doesn't start straightaway, I'd guess that it's Suarez alone up front with Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho flanking him. If we do get Sturridge, I think that'd be what pushes out Henderson or Allen, as Downing has been a mainstay and Coutinho's looked too effective to leave out. In that scenario Suarez would drop deeper with Sturridge up top and Coutinho left, again with Downing remaining.
Kickoff from Anfield is set for 4:00PM GMT/12:00PM EST, with Sky Sports 1 airing the match live in the UK and Fox Soccer Plus carrying coverage in the US. Remember to change your clocks forward if you're stateside or anywhere else that observes Daylight Savings Time, with the switch going into effect at 2:00am. Barring a collapse of society due to the clocks changing, we'll have the overnight thread and matchday post as usual, with team sheets for both sides running around an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us here or on Twitter, and that we'll finally see Liverpol