Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane in the Premier League on Sunday, in what will be a very interesting tactical battle between two completely different teams, who face a similar situation and share a common goal - breaking into the league's top four this season.
Both Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers took charge of Spurs and the Reds respectively around the same time - the summer of 2012, though under different circumstances. The Portuguese tactician moved from west to north London, after a disappointing spell with Chelsea - where he was unceremoniously let go after just eight months, despite trying to instill an attractive brand of football in to the Blues, as per owner Roman Abramovich's orders.
Rodgers, on the other hand, joined Liverpool after a remarkable debut season in the Premier League with newly promoted Swansea City. The Northern Irish manager's Barcelona-style possession-obsessed approach, which found immense success with the minnows, was the major talking point in English football that time.
Both coaches are young (36 and 40 now) and were appointed by their respective clubs with long-term plans in mind. Both had roughly the same task in hand - to achieve success through an attractive, adventurous approach to the game, though they basically are two managers who practice two completely different styles of modern-day football.
Villas-Boas believes in a quick, direct approach that focuses on getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, while Rodgers, as mentioned before, wants his side to keep possession, control the tempo of the game and, if possible, walk the ball into the opposition net.
Both managers have tweaked their formation slightly of late to accommodate new players. AVB, who deployed a 4-3-3 system at former clubs Porto and Chelsea, has now completely moved to a 4-2-3-1 style. The two-man midfield pivot, which gives more protection to the back four and stabilises the team, has been crucial to Spurs' performances this season, though big-money summer signing Roberto Soldado has failed to shine as the lone striker up front.
Meanwhile, Rodgers, known for his 4-2-3-1 formation at Swansea, now uses a 3-5-2 shape to include both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturrdige (who is unavailable tonight through injury) as forwards in the starting line-up. The three-man central defence has also eased some of Liverpool's defensive woes which troubled them last season.
However, with Sturridge out, both teams are likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 shape in this game, making the tactical decisions and choice of players in the starting line-up all the more important. Predicting Villas-Boas' starting XI this season has been a tough job, though the manager's major concern for tonight will be deciding who the lone striker is. Soldado has struggled for goals from open play in the Premier League and was dropped, in favour of Jermain Defoe, for the last two games.
But the Spaniard scored a hat-trick in the Europa League game against Anzhi Makhachkala in midweek, and now has a strong case for himself. Defoe, meanwhile, was the talisman against Sunderland last week, with a 97 per cent passing completion rate. Also his team-mates are well accustomed to his movement on and off-the ball. That said, the England international's finishing was poor at the Stadium of Light, where he missed chance after chance, though he was a tad unlucky to hit the woodwork twice.
On the other side, you have Suarez who just cannot stop scoring. The Uruguayan has not been affected by Sturridge's absence and, in fact, has thrived on the opportunity to lead the attack alone. The 26-year-old has been in scintillating form this season, with 15 goals and seven assists to his name from 10 league matches, and is clearly the best forward in the Premier League at the moment.
So Rodgers' main worry is not the unavailability of Sturridge but the absence of captain Steven Gerrard in the middle of the park. Fellow Englishman Jordan Henderson has been touted as a possible replacement but he is likely to remain on the right flank, at least for this tie.
Hence, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen, who impressed against West Ham United last week, will continue in the centre, with Philippe Coutinho ahead of them in the no.10 role. And with Spurs likely to play Sandro and Mousa Dembele (or Etienne Capoue) in the pivot, and Paulinho above them, it should be a mouthwatering battle in the midfield between the two clubs tonight.
Liverpool are currenlty fifth in the table but can reclaim the second spot from Chelsea, if they manage all three points tonight. Tottenham, on the other hand, sit seventh but can go level on points with the Reds if they win at the Lane.
Both are well-matched teams, with the exception of the men up front. Spurs' strikers have struggled for goals in the league, while Suarez is probably enjoying the best spell of his career. His pace and trickery could see Tottenham getting caught out tonight, especially if they decide to defend high up the field. The forward will target the comparatively slow Michael Dawson, and hence, stopper Hugo Lloris will have to on his toes, ready for some sweeping work, throughout the night.
- Out: Vertonghen (ankle)
- Tests: Rose, Eriksen (match fitness), Chiriches (knee), Kaboul (quad)
- Out: Gerrard (hamstring), Sturridge (ankle), Enrique, Coates (both knee)
- Tests: Agger (illness)
Where to Watch Live
The game is scheduled for an 9.30 pm IST start on Sunday night, with Star Sports 4 and Star Sports HD 2 providing live coverage in India.You can also catch all the action live online by clicking HERE. Viewers in the U.K. can live stream the match HERE. U.S. viewers click HERE. To catch the action inAustralia, click HERE. To Live Stream the match in the Middle East and North Africa via live streaming, click HERE.
Expected lineups: Spurs: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Rose; Sandro, Dembele; Lennon, Paulinho, Chadli; Soldado
Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson; Allen, Lucas; Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling; Suarez