We're finally here--two weeks that, at minimum, should give us a decent enough idea of where Liverpool stand in relation to the other sides around the top of the Premier League table, and possibly a spell that could throw their bright start to the season off course or launch them into the new year with continued optimism. They could also draw four matches and sort of be in roughly the same spot just in a different month and year, but that's not quite as romantic or exciting or terrifying.
Two dominant home wins in their last two should be enough to leave Liverpool feeling confident, though their away form has been markedly different than their performances at Anfield--they've conceded the second-most goals among sides in the top ten to this point, earning only two wins from seven and stumbling badly in losses at Arsenal and Hull City.
They'll have to be far better tomorrow, as despite about Spurs being awful and wasting money and sorry I fell asleep because they're booooring, Andre Villas-Boas' side sit just three points off second, mastering that whole winning ugly thing in the midst of some growing pains. Their turnover this summer was always going to cause some problems in the cohesiveness of the side, and while that's been plenty obvious throughout the fall, it also hasn't--6-0 loss at City aside--been a complete disaster.
Narrow wins and lower scorelines have been the name of the game for Spurs in the Premier League so far; against less talented opposition in the Europa League they've romped, but domestically they've found goals harder to come by, both on the road and at home. No question how much of a problem that poses going forward, but it's far better to have those struggles and still be winning than to have fallen so far off the pace that recovery's impossible if and when the squad puts all the pieces together.
And there really are plenty of pieces, even if it's unclear how Villas-Boas wants to use them. He doesn't have any choice at the back, where Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul should miss out, with the former gone for all of the holiday period through injury. The impressive Vlad Chiriches could return, though, and Etienne Capoue could provide cover alongside Michael Dawson. Their midfield boasts plenty of talent and has been more effective than the constellation of attacking talent; Paulinho has underwhelmed slightly, while Sandro and Moussa Dembele have been far better. Up top there's seemingly a decision between Jermain Defoe and Roberto Soldado (who got a hat-trick against Anzhi on Thursday) through the middle, with plenty to pick from in the recently-fit Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby, Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Aaron Lennon, and Andros Townsend.
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Henderson Coutinho Sterling
There's still a question about Jordan Henderson's fitness, but yesterday Brendan Rodgers noted that the young midfielder should be fine to feature while also confirming that Steven Gerrard will be out around four weeks. He joins Jose Enrique and Daniel Sturridge on the treatment table into January. Sebastian Coates continues rehab work, and unless there's any knocks picked up in training or last-minute omissions, that should cover the absentees.
We're at the point now where it appears the only question at the back is which central defender joins Mamadou Sakho; Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan will continue in the fullback spots, with the latter proving solid enough to continue his unlikely run of starts, and Sakho was more than capable against West Ham. If someone's dropping out it has to be Skrtel, and right now doesn't look likely that Daniel Agger comes in to replace him. I think we'll get the Agger and Sakho pairing at some point in the next few weeks, but I'm guessing the manager sticks with the pair that featured last time out.
Gerrard's absence frees Rodgers up to go with the midfield that was present during the squad's most dominant spell of the season to date; for ten-plus minutes last Saturday Liverpool pressed maniacally and did everything but score, and that was due in part to Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson forming a three-man midfield for the first time in awhile. Against Spurs--especially on the road--I doubt we'll see something so aggressive, but the energy and technique are there. If Henderson doesn't start, I'm hoping that we get Luis Alberto rather than Victor Moses, as that brings quality and patience on the ball into the eleven, which would be a welcome addition in a fixture that's seen Liverpool struggle in recent years.
Trajectory over the past few weeks indicates a start for Raheem Sterling would be warranted; the young winger has improved steadily in his three consecutive starts, and he and Philippe Coutinho should be the primary attacking support for Luis Suarez. There's also the option of bringing Victor Moses back into the side, but between his form and the chance for him to make an impact appearance as a substitute against a tired Spurs back line,
Kickoff is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US and Sky Sports 1 airing the match live in the UK. We'll have the overnight open thread up tonight to lead into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour or so before things get underway. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside, where we'll have full coverage and lively in-game discussion for every match this season.