A size­able task

Live­pool must show that they can cope with­out Ste­vie G against qual­ity op­po­si­tion when they travel to the Lane on Sun­day.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL - by RiCHARd lim

CLUB an­thems may be hard to live up to but Liver­pool have no prob­lems what­so­ever. Flash­back to Is­tan­bul where many a Red cheered their he­roes on – even though Mi­lan were 3-0 up – and you wit­ness com­mit­ment at its best. The rest is his­tory and Liver­pool bagged their fifth Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle.

And al­though Liver­pool re­mained a pale shadow of the pow­er­house they once were, the Reds’ strong per­for­mances al­ways en­sured that they walked with giants in the league.

How­ever, the trend was bucked last sea­son and Roy Hodg­son seemed to be head­ing for ig­nominy af­ter Liver­pool recorded a mere six points from their open­ing eight matches – the club’s worst start to a cam­paign since the 1953-54 sea­son.

Lodged in the drop zone slightly over a month ago, the Reds had to en­dure taunts of rel­e­ga­tion from op­po­si­tion fans. The joke then was that Liver­pool would not walk alone as Wolves and West Ham would walk with them!

How­ever, things change fast in foot­ball and a Liver­pool resur­gence has pro­pelled the club to the busi­ness end of the ta­ble. In fact, the Reds are now six points away from fourth spot and nine points away from the sum­mit.

Thanks to the in­sta­bil­ity at Chelsea and Arse­nal’s in­abil­ity to win, Liver­pool closed the gap swiftly by tak­ing 13 points from their last six games – a record bet­tered only by their peren­nial ri­vals Manch­ester United who ac­crued 14 (No, I’m not a United fan).

Con­fi­dence lev­els are ris­ing once again at An­field and braver Reds have even started dream­ing of glory. Well, talk of fin­ish­ing as cham­pi­ons – or even se­cur­ing a top four spot – may still be a tad pre­ma­ture but if any­thing’s for sure, the Reds are cer­tainly back in busi­ness.

And Hodg­son will take his charg­ers to White Hart Lane on Sun­day look­ing to get one bet­ter over Harry Red­knapp, whose side broke the mo­nop­oly of the Big Four at Liver­pool’s ex­pense. Grudges aside, the match has added sig­nif­i­cance as Spurs are in a re­vival of their own.

Af­ter en­dur­ing a post-In­ter slump, Spurs have turned the corner and the Londoners have now won three games on the trot. With both sides in rel­a­tively good form, the match prom­ises to be an ex­cit­ing one and in­jury con­cerns only add spice to the buildup.

Al­though Spurs have in­jury con­cerns of their own, Liver­pool ar­guably have it harder as it is no se­cret that their chances de­pend heav­ily on Steven Ger­rard and Fer­nando Tor­res. And with Cap­tain Mar­vel out for a month, fac­ing Spurs could come at a wrong time.

Al­though the Reds im­pressed with­out Ger­rard in their 3-0 win over West Ham, the jury is still out on makeshift mid­field part­ner­ship of Raul Meire­les and Chris­tian Poulsen. The Ham­mers did not have much stom­ach to start with and a lit­mus test against qual­ity op­po­si­tion is needed.

Spurs fit the bill nicely in this re­spect and the Reds will have it all to do even if the Li­ly­whites will miss Tom Hud­dle­stone as well. A tad ex­ag­ger­ated you say? Not quite. Spurs have an ad­e­quate re­place­ment in Jer­maine Je­nas while Ger­rard is sim­ply ir­re­place­able for Liver­pool.

With that, much will rest on the shoul­ders of Fer­nando Tor­res. El Nino may still be re­dis­cov­er­ing his best form but his world class strikes against Chelsea prove his worth and a sin­gle moment of bril­liance could be all Liver­pool need on Sun­day.

Tor­res last scored in the 1-1 draw at Wi­gan and he is aware that he has to buck up. His brace against Chelsea may have ap­peased most Reds but it is Vi­cente del Bosque who needs more con­vinc­ing. David Villa and Fer­nando Llorente have frozen Tor­res out of the Span­ish start­ing lineup and El Nino must be at his best if he is to re­turn to the reck­on­ing.

Back­ing Tor­res up on Sun­day are Maxi Ro­driguez and the tire­less Dirk Kuyt. The duo are cen­tral fig­ures in the Liver­pool re­vival and they will have to be at their best against Spurs if Liver­pool are to get all three points.

But even the best ef­fort might be fu­tile if you fac­tor in Liver­pool’s abysmal away record. The Reds have taken just five points from a pos­si­ble 21 this sea­son. It gets worse. Liver­pool have only won twice out­side An­field in the league since Dec 29.

And a ram­pant Spurs could prove too much for Hodg­son’s boys. Spurs suc­cess­fully built on their su­perb come­back win against Arse­nal with their 3-0 midweek win over Werder Bre­men. The em­phatic score put some day­light be­tween the two sides but in re­al­ity, Spurs could – and should – have scored more.

Still, one sus­pects that Red­knapp would take that as Spurs se­cured pas­sage to the last 16 of Europe’s elite com­pe­ti­tion. And get­ting that golden ticket with a game to spare was cer­tainly mo­men­tous as Spurs last fea­tured in the ven­er­a­ble Euro­pean Cup al­most 50 years ago.

With that, it is a throw­away ob­ser­va­tion to note that the Li­ly­whites will wel­come their vis­i­tors with con­fi­dence. And Gareth Bale – Spurs’ man of the moment by a mile – will be rar­ing to add an­other scalp to his col­lec­tion of van­quished right-backs.

And the un­der­per­form­ing Glen John­son could be there for the tak­ing. In Hodg­son’s own words, John­son is yet to jus­tify why he is Eng­land’s first choice right-back and al­though John­son has expressed his in­ten­tion to buck up, one sus­pects that im­prove­ment will not take place on Sun­day.

On his cur­rent form, Bale is sim­ply a class above and al­though he failed to main­tain the scor­ing hero­ics against Bre­men – missing a penalty in the process – it must be noted that he rat­tled the wood­work twice.

It must be noted that Peter Crouch – who scored Spurs’ fi­nal goal against Bre­men – will be look­ing for­ward to the match with much an­tic­i­pa­tion. The bean­pole striker will want to prove a point that he de­served more dur­ing his Liver­pool stay. And with Bale, Luka Mo­dric and Aaron Len­non fir­ing on all cylin­ders, Crouch will get op­por­tu­ni­ties to shine.

How­ever, the match is not a fore­gone con­clu­sion as Spurs have some wor­ries of their own. Red­knapp is still sweat­ing over the fit­ness of tal­is­manic mid­fielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose pre-in­jury Spurs form could match Bale. The Dutch­man was de­clared un­fit for the Bre­men game and it will be touch and go un­til Sun­day’s kick­off.

Also, Spurs in­jury rav­aged back­line could be vul­ner­a­ble against the likes of Tor­res. Gal­las adds sta­bil­ity but the ab­sences of Jonathan Woodgate and Led­ley King are sorely felt. In fact, Spurs’ vic­tory against Bre­men was the first time they recorded a clean sheet af­ter 17 matches.

That said, there should be goals on Sun­day. What we can’t say, how­ever, is who will score more. Al­though Spurs are in good form, it would be fool­hardy to write off the Reds – as Chelsea learnt at their ex­pense – and the match could be a close one.

Turn­ing back the clock, Liver­pool’s last loss at the Lane came in their open­ing day fix­ture last sea­son and that de­feat ini­ti­ated their spi­ral of de­cline. The Reds have since clawed their way back up and Sun­day’s game will give them a good op­por­tu­nity to ex­or­cise the ghosts of the past.

The cut­ting edge: If Liver­pool look to get any­thing away from home this week­end, you can count on this lad to de­liver the goods.

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