Liverpool's difficult three-match stretch to start the season comes to a close in London tomorrow; last season we got successive 1-0 wins in their first three, two of which came at Anfield, but the narrative's already different despite similarities in the opener. The narrow, nervy win over Southampton--a winner from Daniel Sturridge and late save from Simon Mignolet to secure the three points--gave way to a promising start at the Etihad, with 40 minutes of controlled confidence away to the current title holders inspiring further confidence about the new season.
Then a string of defensive calamities left Liverpool 3-0 down without a way back, and three late injuries, all of which came after Brendan Rodgers made his third substitution, conspired to make tomorrow's visit to White Hart Lane far more frightening than it had previously been. Spurs away has been a difficult fixture in seasons past, with last season a clear anomaly, and with defensive uncertainty and trouble developing consistency going forward (even though it was against a City side that looks a class above at this point) was worrisome.
Part of that is the recognition that Spurs will be a different prospect this season, which was going to be the case whether or not they put together the greatest performance in the history of performances in the 4-0 win over QPR last weekend. For starters there's no Tim Sherwood, whose absence means that tactics exist again, and Mauricio Pochettino they now have a manager in place who not only is not Sherwood, but appears to have an understanding of how to assemble the various pieces that looked so jumbled during last season's struggles.
Many of those pieces were in action for the Harry Redknapp reunion tour last Saturday; Hugo Lloris was in goal and remains one of the league's best, Eric Dier, Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, and Danny Rose featured across the back, and Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue played deeper in midfield with Erik Lamela, Cristian Eriksen, and Nacer Chadli in a band of three behind Emmanuel Adebayor up top.
There's still vulnerabilities, of course, and they were far from perfect in the opener at West Ham no matter how convincing the win over QPR might have felt. Their Europa League qualifiers provided little in the way of a litmus test, leaving tomorrow as a chance to assert themselves as back after a year of turbulence left them far off the pace of where they've come to expect.
Manquillo Lovren Sakho Moreno
It's not entirely clear who's available and who's not in defense; Jon Flanagan continues his recovery and will be absent for sure, while Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson seem likely to miss out. Martin Skrtel and Alberto Moreno were injured against Manchester City and were monitored throughout the week. Adam Lallana comes back into the squad after missing the entire preseason due to a knee injury.
There's a number of possible combinations at the back depending on who is or isn't available, with Javier Manquillo, Dejan Lovren, and Mamadou Sakho the only three that we know for certain are fit. I think. At least two should start in Manquillo and Lovren, and we might as well make it three in guessing that Sakho comes in for an injured Skrtel. If the Slovakian isn't injured he plays and we get the Skrtel-Lovren partnership in the middle, and I'm guessing that Moreno will be fit enough to feature.
In the midfield it'll be Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, and one of Joe Allen or Philippe Coutinho if Rodgers decides to go with the diamond. Given Coutinho's struggles pushed further forward a move deeper would make sense, and while Allen has been excellent in his two appearances this season, we'll stick with Coutinho operating the role he played to great effect last season. Emre Can should be closer to fitness and could play a part as well.
That leaves Raheem Sterling at the tip of a diamond and Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli to partner in the Italian's first match as a Liverpool player. Big ask, and maybe a start for Rickie Lambert and/or Adam Lallana in a wide or advanced midfield role seems more likely, but for as much as Rodgers might not enjoy the focus his newest signing has received, the third-year manager also hasn't shied away from throwing players straight into the eleven. If it's not Balotelli or Lambert, it very well could be Lallana and a different formation, with Sturridge alone centrally and Sterling and Lallana in support.
Kickoff is set for 1:30PM BST/8:30AM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra airing the match live in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.