By anyone’s standards Liverpool have had a good couple of weeks. Since the debacle that was the defeat to Bolton, some home truths and committed performances have improved the outlook to the rest of the season for the Reds and their supporters. Even the collective media reaction that Liverpool can lift themselves for the big games, the Manchester United’s, the Manchester City’s but fall to the lesser teams, was refuted by a good 3 nil away win at Wolves.
Prior to the game results against Blackburn and Wigan might have added an element of caution to Red optimism. Was this going to be one of those 2 steps back moments after such a good step forward? Thankfully no. 3 strikers. 3 goals. Andy Carroll leading the line and showing determination to get that long leg to a wonderful cross from Charlie Adam. The Dorian Gray of LFC, Craig Bellamy, playing out of skin, threatening whenever he got the ball, managed to place a shot just beyond the squirming grasp of Wayne Hennessey. And in the latter stages, the coup de grace provided by Dirk Kuyt, on a mini run after putting United to the sword. A powerful angled shot that was reminiscent of the kind of angle defying goal that we have seen a certain Uruguayan execute in recent times. So in front of the travelling passionate support, on a sub zero night in the Midlands, the red smile continued to grin. So many positives you could run through the team and highlight almost every member and have something good to say. Even Adam, of whom I have been a vocal critic of this season showed briefly he still has that killer ball in him.
But when we are confronted every weekend by Super Sundays and other over hyped advertising designed to keep us on our sofas instead of the stands, Monday night’s game at Anfield doesn’t come any bigger and any hype is utterly superfluous.
Somewhere along the line it seems that Tottenham have become one of our bogey teams. Even before the horror of Whitehart Lane with 2 sending offs, conceding 4 goals without reply earlier in the season, our record against them has been less than good. In our last 7 meetings with the Lily-whites they’ve beaten us 5 times to our 2 victories. If the stats are to continue a draw is the least likely result on Monday night as we haven’t drawn in that same period. During that time Spurs lead us by 13 goals to 8, albeit only 3 of those goals have been scored at Anfield.
Anyone who witnessed the highlights of Spurs demolition of Wigan in the week can’t have failed to have been impressed with the play of Modric and Bale. Modric may go at the end of the season and its rumoured Pep Guardiola’s scouting eyes have been on Bale, preparing a summer bid. However these 2 will face Liverpool on Monday, providing 2 of the biggest headaches for the Reds. We certainly can’t allow these 2 players the space we gave Scholes etc in front of the defence when we knocked Man U out of the FA cup. Neither of them need that extra touch to hit the target, both displaying enviable first time technique in hitting the back of the net against struggling Wigan.
Spurs have undoubtedly been the in form team of the premiere league. They have creativity all over the pitch with Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart, but also goals. Between the aforementioned 3 and Adebayor they have scored 28 goals this season. Compare that to our attacking 4 of Carroll, Kuyt, Bellamy and Suarez who have only 15 goals. That we need to be more clinical in front of goal is hardly a secret. Admittedly we have been without our main goal threat for 8 games. Something that hammers it home is when you compare Liverpool’s minutes per chance created stats.
Every 7.15 minutes Liverpool create a chance whereas the prolific Spurs create one every 6.45 minutes. To again paraphrase Mr. Shankly, we are missing chances but getting in the right place to miss them. So creativity has not been the problem. A perfect example was when we knocked City out of the Carling Cup. They’d barely had a shot on target but when they did they made it count. While De Jong had a large slice of luck in beating Pepe, the clinical finish of Dzeko told a story. How many times this season have we seen Carroll, Skrtel, Kuyt and Agger not bury such chances?
Suarez v Assou Ekotto
In terms of winning 50-50s you would expect the Afro sporting defender to be considerably better than Suarez but he in fact has 55% tackle success v Luis 43%. I’m willing to bet that Luis’ success is far more in the final 3rd as we so often see him chasing down lost causes only to emerge with the ball and often a goal. They are remarkably close in tackle success with our number 7 at 71.43% success and Ekotto at 72.1%. But it’s the 2.06 successful dribbles per game which is the stat I would focus on. Whether Kenny plays Suarez from the start or not, stats and history suggests he is going to have the beating of Ekotto on at least one of those runs. That dribble success figure is higher than Modric and Bale and given the way they play with the ball at their feet, that is praise indeed.
Bellamy v Walker
At 32 v 21 there is certainly an age mismatch between Craig Bellamy and Kyle Walker. But one of the terms often bandied about since Bellamy hit this vein of excellent form is rejuvenated and it certainly applies. He is playing with the confidence that means that even when you don’t quite hit a ball the way you want it still hits the target as it did with his measured goal against Wolves. At 84.9% tackle success he is above Evra, Enrique, Skrtel, Terry and only just behind Kompany, Vermaelen and Lescott. In fact, he is some way behind Lescott who has a phenomenal 93.33% tackle success. I can’t find a defender with better stats, but that’s a piece for another day. So although rated as only 75% likely to play, the young right back may prove a formidable barrier to Bellamy. But it’s worth noting that of the players likely to be on the Anfield pitch Monday night, Bellamy has the highest conversion rate at 27%.
Spearing v Modric
Liverpool have a lot of options in the middle, especially with the return of our captain. But Spearing seems most tuned to the role of marshaling Modric. He needs someone snapping at his heels and not giving him time on the ball. So long as Spearing isn’t as unfortunate as he was at Whitehart Lane. That day he undoubtedly got the ball but as we are seeing each week, even a suspicion of 2 feet arriving in the tackle at the same time makes the player see red (Notable exceptions aside, Lampard, Glen Johnson and indeed Assou Ekotto this very week on Wigan’s Di Santo). Energy and composure are required to keep the Croatian quiet. Much as Walker’s tackle success figure was impressive Spearing’s is 86.7% and along with 86.9% pass completion stats he will hold his own both defensively and creatively.
Johnson v Bale
A player that can create something out of nothing is always one to be feared and that is certainly Gareth Bale. When he managed to slot his second home against Wigan he had defenders around him and a very narrow angle but managed to hit the target beautifully. He has pace and power and I suspect we may see Kuyt and Johnson double up on him to keep him quiet when he bombs forward. This season I have been torn by Glen Johnson. Just when I think we have an average defender and an average midfielder wrapped up into one player he manages to pull something out of the bag and I think his defensive displays have been improving this season. Only Jay Spearing of the likely players on display has a better record in ground 50 50s at a 58% win rate, but in tackle success, pass completion and open play pass completion there is little to split Bale and Johnson. This looks on paper quite an even match up and may need the industrious Kuyt to tip the balance in the Reds favour.
Anfield on Monday is going to be the place to be. City have pressed home their advantage against Fulham improving their goal difference and points tally by 3. If Spurs have title ambitions a draw is no good to them at Anfield. Results went Liverpool’s way midweek with Arsenal drawing at Bolton and Chelsea scraping a fortunate draw against Swansea. Newcastle’s 2 nil victory at Blackburn was the only result that really went against LFC. But by Monday they’ll have played again and we are hoping Villa do us unlikely favour at the home of the Toon army. Arsenal netted 7 against Blackburn, with Oxlade Chamberlain maturing with every game. And Sunday may bring a helping hand in the chase for the elusive 4th in the shape of arch enemies Man Utd taking points from Chelsea.
But all that aside, Liverpool need a result. The wave of euphoria that will greet the returning Suarez, the resurgent Andy Carroll, Gerrard increasing in fitness and influence by inches, and even a removal of distraction for Stuart Downing are all positive indicators. It’ll be a cold night in the north. I’m hoping Anfield is as unwelcoming as the weather to the in form Londoners. And I’m also hoping Luis Suarez has his thermals on… and his shooting boots.