Amalgam in the middle
Liverpool at the Lane, under the floodlights. This won't be as comfortable as the West Ham game. For starters, the visitors are more likely to hold onto the ball and use it more effectively. And if they don't use it effectively (and we struggle to do the same) then it might get a little uneasy on the eye.
Brendan Rodgers side is also a work in progress. They might not have the quality we do but they still retain enough quality to cause us a problem. Even if that quality is mostly possessed within one of their players. Rodgers wishes to project his footballing vision. Be it one with plenty of quirks. The passing game he wants his team to play has made the odd cameo this season, but it's far from complete.
This will be another game where the midfield area is key to how the game settles and where possession is won. I expected West Ham to flood the midfield with their five men on Sunday and all they gave was a drip from a tap. Liverpool should be far more competitive which means Sandro has to anchor and Huddlestone/Dembele have to work their socks off. Not sure if the latter is fit enough to start. Hopefully he is. Tom is still not quite where he should be. His passing isn't the issue (although some of his short passing hasn't been great) but his failure to truly influence in the centre means we give up territory to the opposition. That didn't happen on Sunday thanks to West Ham's inability. A lot more work to do this evening. Hoping Sandro crunches through them like a Granny Smith.
The only reason the midfield always ends up being key is because of our missing players. Full strength, I'd hardly talk about it.
Liverpool will seek to attack. That's a far better prospect for us than to see the visiting team sit back deep and defend. So the game will have openings. Again, from a midfield perspective, if we work to stop Liverpool supplying Suarez then we'll suffocate their potential to cause us damage.
Dawson or Gallas to start with Suarez in mind? Gallas, for all the intelligence in his play, most of it remains in his head and doesn't translate to his body. Old age caught up with him last season. We all know Dawson's strengths and love him for them. But his weaknesses is what might have us biting our nails. Big decision for Villas-Boas at the back. I don't think either Daws of Gallas are built to deal with Suarez. Which means that suffocation in midfield might be the key to isolating him.
Liverpool's left-backs will push forward. So we have some defensive questions to answer concerning containment but equally so some questions posed to Liverpool with how we can capitalise on their endeavour.
I might be wrong. They might end up seeking to sit deep, Rodgers not wanting to give us any type of initiative. If that happens, then the game will end up being tight until we (or they) take a chance. If both sides struggle to hold onto possession/pass then the game might turn into a mess. One concern is how long it took us to get the better of West Ham and how we concentrated on Bale being the main outlet of attack. Really important for us to start fast out of the blocks and as ever, take advantage of any opportunities. Still think so much of our play is confidence-reliant.
Dempsey will be key. I'm hoping. There's narrative with him and Liverpool (they wanted him). So the game might just be scripted with a goal to the good for our American midfielder.
With or with out Dembele, we're going to need the same guile and craft from Dempsey, Bale and Lennon and the hunger and confidence from Defoe that we showed in the second half on Sunday. If it does turn out to be an open game, like I said, this will suit us. We've got more than enough about us to beat them. Whether that's us taking the game to them or punishing them on the counter.
Again. Quality of passing and possession and plenty of strength through the middle. All important factors.
Suarez is key to everything Liverpool do and very few teams have managed to stop him this season. Won't really matter what he does if we do all the swaggering up top. Big three points in this game and vital to continue the home territory re-build and momentum.
No doubting whatever happens, the on-going story arc of the Premier League season 2013 will continue to blossom or falter for one or the other in the eyes of the bloodthirsty viewers.