What did Liverpool’s loss at Manchester City on Monday night really tell us? Because of how the game ended and the nature of the goals conceded, it’s easy to assume something about the side’s defending or conclude that they’re a lesser version of what they were last year.
Maybe, but it’s one game, it was away from home against the defending champions, and there was actually a 30-to-40 minute period during that game in which they were the better side. If they can replicate the first-half performance from that game at White Hart Lane today, they’re more than capable of beating a Tottenham side who are still at the beginning of their cycle under Mauricio Pochettino.
Here’s a projected Liverpool team, with justifications below:
- Mario Balotelli’s arrival is a plus, but integrating him into this side is going to be a challenge. Liverpool’s success under Rodgers has been largely predicated on movement, and the Italian is a far more static player than either Daniel Sturridge or, previously, Luis Suarez. Additionally, the moment a game starts to even slightly turn away from Balotelli, he stops moving and running all together - and that’s just something that Liverpool, for the sake of the integrity of their system, will not be able to tolerate.
- Raheem Sterling tormented Kyle Naughton on the right-hand side in this fixture last season and, even though Danny Rose will start over Naughton this afternoon, Sterling can be equally successful. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t use him as a wide player in the traditional sense and he does encourage him to roam in-field and interact with the central players, but expect to see him on the touchline more today in the previous games this season. Rose is very susceptible to any player who moves well both on and off-the-ball, and Rodgers will likely try to match one of his side’s biggest strengths with his opponent’s most pronounced weakness.
- Tottenham shouldn’t be over-hyped, but nor should they be disrespected: Jordan Henderson’s role today will tell us how much stock Rodgers has placed in Mauricio Pochettino’s start at White Hart Lane. Steven Gerrard has a lot of qualities, even at this stage of his career, but exposing him to the fluidity of Spurs’ attacking-four would be courting trouble and Henderson is the obvious pick to sit alongside Gerrard and add some protection to that creaking defensive unit. Liverpool need obvious qualities in that area - ball-winning, game-intelligence etc - but more than anything they require the athleticism to subdue Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli. Henderson is not a perfect answer to the questions Tottenham will ask in that part of the pitch, but he’s infinitely preferable one to either Lucas Leiva or Joe Allen.
- Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan are both injured, so Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno will start at full-back.