Club Focus – Tottenham – Changing of the guard

Weather permitting, Tottenham have the chance to really establish themselves as contenders for a Champions League place.

A trip to Liverpool awaits, and with it the chance to get one over the team they are looking to replace long term in the top four. The teams last met on the opening day of the season. Spurs were victorious, setting a marker for what has proved to be a great season for them. In contrast, the Reds have been well below par and have failed to build upon the promise offered last season when they finished second. Few would have predicted pre-season that Tottenham would sit above Liverpool at this stage in the season and it is important that Spurs make the most of their current standing.

As good as this season has been so far for Harry Redknapp and as bad as it has proved for Rafa Benitez, just four points separate their sides and a Liverpool win would cut the gap to a solitary point. It is down to the different expectations placed on the sides. Spurs are viewed as having had a very successful season and are yet only a short distance ahead of a side that have been considered to be in crisis on a regular basis. The reality of the situation has been distorted and it would be easy to falsely place Tottenham as favourites for this match. In reality, this is still a club with aspirations of breaking in to the top four against a club who will expect to finish there come the end of the season. Spurs stand a greater chance of coming away with three points if they go there as plucky underdogs rather than with the burden of expectation placed upon them.

Aaron Lennon will miss the match with the groin injury he picked up against West Ham. His absence is a huge blow, with the left-back position a chink in the Liverpool armoury. Emiliano Insua is the likely occupant of that spot for the meeting on Sunday and he will be nervy after being torn apart by Reading’s Jobi McAnuff in the FA Cup last weekend. With the greatest of respect to McAnuff, Lennon is in a different league and could have enjoyed a field day against the Argentine youngster. The Red’s back-line looks susceptible to pace, and with Lennon missing, getting Jermain Defoe in behind the defence will be Spurs’ best route for success. Having been fined this week for speeding in his Land Rover, Defoe will be looking to put his speed to better use in the search for goals.

At the other end of the pitch, Fernando Torres will be the main threat to a Spurs defence that have kept five straight clean sheets. The Spanish striker has scored three times against the Lilywhites since arriving in England two and a half years ago, but his likely opponents on Sunday have both come out with fighting talk this week. Michael Dawson has spoken of wanting to extend the gap over the Reds to seven points and is looking to extend the run of clean sheets against the Spanish star. Sebastien Bassong faced Torres on his Spurs debut but put in an excellent performance and is confident of a repeat showing. Whilst acknowledging the Liverpool forward’s class, the Cameroonian defender feels there is no reason to be scared and has learned plenty about his foe from watching him on television. Bassong and Dawson’s blossoming partnership will get a stern test against Torres, but it is a test that they have the quality to pass.

Spurs will have every right to feel that they go in to game having more potential match winners than their opponents. Much is made of Liverpool being a two man team reliant on Torres and Steven Gerrard, but the myth is based in reality. The Reds still boast other quality players like Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano, but they lack quantity in terms of attackers who can make the difference in a close contest. In contrast, Redknapp can boast Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar who bring genuine creative quality from midfield and a potent strike force of Defoe, Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane. Anfield is never an easy place to go, but Tottenham have as good a chance as any recent visit to pick up their first win there since 1993. Without Lennon, they will need to find other ways to break open the Liverpool defence, but if they can stop Torres and Gerrard at the other end then you would always back Spurs to come up with a goal. The Big Four are fast becoming the Big Three and Tottenham have Liverpool’s place at the top table within their sights. Here is their chance to claim it.

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