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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Tottenham, 01.20.09

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An abbreviated look to tomorrow's biggie with Spurs, as well as a host of other news.

Apologies up front--this'll be short and sweet due to a vintage first day of the semester catastrophe. Graduate school, awesome!

No need to emphasize how important tomorrow's match is for Liverpool, considering it could see them underline their intentions for the fourth spot, as well as provide a huge confidence boost if the squad can get all three points without at least four first-team regulars. There's actually been quite a bit coming through the pipeline today--talk about those that are fit, those that aren't, continued transfer rumors, and plenty of Spurs-related news.

This week, Rafa's been dealing with the usual barrage of questions about his Anfield future, and also been tasked with babysitting Ryan Babel, making sure Steven Gerrard isn't putting holes through walls in the dressing room, and selecting another less than full-strength starting eleven in a huge match. He's been defended by Javier Mascherano, which is honestly one of the first player comments I've read about Rafa in some time. After all the rumors of backroom turmoil, not bad to see someone in the squad sharing the load.

One of the big challenges for Rafa tomorrow will be to select a side that's willing to put forth the kind of effort we saw at Stoke...but maybe without the same personnel. Tottenham are no Stoke--no disrespect to Stoke, but there's much more pace and technical ability in this Spurs side, and it's likely that they'll push Liverpool consistently. A gritty side was a perfect selection for Saturday, and Liverpool still need gritty, but there also needs to be a better balance between pace and power. Tough call for Rafa.

Tottenham come to Anfield with two former Reds--Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane--as semi-regulars, although Keane has fallen a bit out of favor recently, with Crouch and Defoe the preferred partnership up front at times. Keane started the season opener and missed a couple of great chances, but Tottenham still came away with a deserved three points. Spurs will attack with some combination of Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric, Crouch, Keane, and Niko Kranjcar, as well as Huddlestone from defensive midfield. Luckily for Liverpool Aaron Lennon is still missing for Spurs, as we've seen what pacey wingers (Jobi McAnuff is the most recent) can really exploit this Liverpool side on the counter.

As I mentioned, Liverpool will likely look somewhat similar to the side that faced Stoke. Not sure what the news on Agger is, which likely means that everyone's favorite Greek will be in the middle. This pushes Carra to right tomorrow, and whether or not he likes it, he'll have to be on top of his game. I'm guessing that Aquilani will partner with Masch in the middle, and hoping that Maxi gets his debut start either on the right or left. I still think the 4-4-2 is the way forward for now, and Spurs have the defensive fortitude to swallow Ngog whole. This won't be a flashy production from the Reds, but flashy isn't what they need right now. Could be ugly as hell, but any way to three points will do.

Other bits and pieces:

--Ryan Babel's apologized. This, along with questions about Rafa's future, has become the running theme of the season. Not a good thing if you're Ryan Babel.

--Steven Gerrard and Rafa have been sharing some belly laughs about the rumors of Gerrard's hissy-fits. Somehow I can't see those two sitting down and having a laugh together, but who knows. Maybe they've gone to couples counseling.

--Fernando Torres would like to see more talent imported, particularly one of the Davids. I'd take either, although I think Silva would probably fit better into the tactical system that Rafa employs. But right now, this is a long ways off.

--Alberto Aquilani's not leaving! Good news, especially considering he's been here for all of 6 months, and been fit for about 1 month. I always like it when someone uses the word "hypothesis" in a strange context.

--The Kenwyne Jones transfer is apparently dead in the water, and now Rafa is looking at Milan Jovanovic, currently with Standard Liege. I'll be shocked if Liverpool bring in any more talent before the window shuts, especially considering the lack of exports outside of Voronin and Dossena. Time will tell.

That's it for now, back later tonight or tomorrow with some matchday news.