The Europa League may not be the most glamourous competition, but a place in it is all that’s left for Tottenham and Liverpool to play for this season as they clash on Sunday afternoon.
For Liverpool, the chance to play in Europe after such a dismal start to the campaign under Roy Hodgson is something of a miracle as they sit with a two-point cushion over Spurs. Indeed, only Chelsea have claimed more Premier League points than the Reds since Kenny Dalglish took the reins in January and the Liverpool legend (with the help of £57 million of attacking talent arriving in the transfer window) has overseen a huge change in the fortunes of the club.The impact of Luis Suarez in particular has lifted Liverpool into a position to fight for Europe again and, without the injured Steven Gerrard, the players are almost unrecognisable in terms of confidence since the turn of the year. Youth players like Jack Robinson and John Flanagan have made their mark, while the form of Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez of late has quashed any doubts over their claims for a place in the side as they ride the crest of a wave created by Dalglish’s return.Spurs, however, will look at fifth place as scant consolation, given their early expectations. Having impressed in their debut season in the Champions League, Harry Redknapp’s side will be hugely disappointed to have missed out on Europe’s flagship competition; a consequence of overstretching themselves without the squad depth to cope.Notably, Tottenham are the only club yet to name an unchanged side in the Premier League this season and they have won only ten points in their nine games against the current top five, showing that they have struggled to assert themselves as they did last year.Since dropping out of the Champions League, Spurs have picked up just three points in five games and will not be buoyed by the fact that they have won none of their last 16 Premier League visits to Anfield. They will certainly be fearful that, if they don’t secure European football, then some of their top players will begin to look elsewhere.
Liverpool player to watch: Dirk Kuyt. When Fernando Torres left Liverpool, Kuyt was tipped as the natural successor and initially he seemed to relish the prospect of playing up front again. A central striker at Feyenoord, his role on the right-wing at Anfield proved something of a change for the Dutchman, but his hard work and fighting spirit brought about great praise. Now, alongside Suarez and Maxi, he has rediscovered the goalscoring touch and has scored in five successive Premier League matches for Liverpool, netting nine in his last eight appearances in the competition.
Tottenham player to watch: Sandro. Harry Redknapp may have been a little confused over the Brazilian’s participation in the squad when he joined in January, but the midfielder has shown himself to be a top performer since. A real box-to-box midfielder, Sandro’s stamina and strength has given Tottenham real bite in the centre and his tackling ability will be key to blunting Liverpool’s attacking players. He has even shown himself to be a goal threat with a stunner against Chelsea and will take centre stage again at Anfield.
Key Battle: Raul Meireles v Luka Modric. Meireles has been one of the best performers in the Premier League this season with his commitment and goalscoring touch winning him plaudits. The Portugal international has ensured that Steven Gerrard’s presence in the middle is not missed too much, but his defensive abilities will be tested to the fullest against Modric. Spurs use the Croatian as their creative lynchpin and his vision and passing skills have placed him among the very best. Meireles will be required to track his runs and hassle him on the ball, while also getting forward to support his team-mates in the final third.
Trivia: Jamie Carragher has scored as many Premier League goals for Tottenham as he has for Liverpool (3).
Stats: Maxi Rodríguez has scored seven goals in his last three Premier League appearances, including two hat-tricks; this after netting just four in his previous 41 apps, while none of the last ten goals that Spurs have scored against Liverpool have arrived before the 44th minute.
Odds: Liverpool (1.72), Tottenham (4.75) and the draw (3.80) are on offer with bet365, with Luis Suarez to score anytime in a 3-0 win comes in at 17.00.
Prediction: Liverpool are in irresistible form and face a Tottenham side devoid of confidence. A Liverpool win will secure their place in the Europa League next season.
15:00 +00:00, May 15, 2011
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