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