This could be seen as job done, completing the bare minimum expectations of six points from nine after dropping the first three against Hull at the start of the week. It could also be seen as job just about done, since it arguably should have been at least seven if not the full nine.
Brendan Rodgers’ side played pretty well against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United side, with old boys Stewart Downing and Joe Cole having some time on the pitch of their former club, while Andy Carroll continued to sit out with a long-term problem. For the 20 minute period before and after half-time, Liverpool looked immense, moving the ball around with aplomb and crispness, interchanging their positions and trying to get in behind the defence. The other periods saw the Hammers try to get back into the game, mostly with long punts or crosses into the box, which Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel dealt pretty decently – albeit the latter’s own goal came from some aerial pressure.
Joe Allen did improve on his decent performance from midweek against Norwich. With Steven Gerrard and him constantly switching between who goes forward and who sits back, Allen – when going forward – managed to find his team-mates in tight situations and did take on and dribble at the opposing defenders. When Lucas came on to replace Gerrard around the 60 minute mark, this allowed Allen to press higher up and freed him to go forward more, knowing Lucas would sit back. When West Ham got back to 2-1 and had some control of the game, Allen and Lucas, along with Jordan Henderson, formed a robust shield in front of the defence that stopped the likes of Mohamed Diame and Kevin Nolan from supporting Madibo Maiga.
Further, Raheem Sterling also improved on his goal and performance against Norwich. He constantly ran in behind the defence from Philipp Coutinho’s low as well as lofted through balls, and almost got an end to a few of them, most noticeably the shot that ended up just wide of Jussi Jaaskelainen’s far post. Sakho had an immense game at the back, dealing with most of the high balls and keeping Maiga in check – except for that one chance when Matt Jarvis found Maiga’s head, which drew a superb save from Simon Mignolet that even his opposite number Jaaskelainen applauded along with the Anfield faithful.
Luis Suarez, not as spectacular as midweek of course, still managed one headed goal from yesterday’s stand-in vice-captain Glen Johnson’s pinpoint cross, and also one deflected goal after feigning the West Ham defenders two, maybe three times.
Trip to White Hart Lane
As was the philosophy of looking at it one game at a time, this month has necessitated the need to look at the games in batches. Rodgers has navigated out of the first batch of December fixtures with some good performances but an above average points haul. How his side will fare in the next batch of fixtures before the new year will define Liverpool’s season. With away trips to Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City, along with the last home game of 2013 against Cardiff (not an easy fixture either – just ask City and David Moyes), this batch of four games should hopefully yield around eight or nine points out of a possible twelve – a win at either away match and two draws at the other two away games along with a Cardiff win. This is the most ideal and realistic hope for Rodgers to end the year on the high and in the running for a top 4 place.
However, first Rodgers has to look ahead to the game at Spurs. If he manages to grab a win here, at a slightly resurgent Spurs side with back-to-back wins, Rodgers will have less pressure going into the other two away games at Chelsea and City – which are, on paper, arguably ‘more difficult’.
Still, a win at Spurs is a big ‘if’. You can’t discount the fact a huge investment on players was made from Gareth Bale, which added to an already good squad of players. For Paulinho, there was already fellow Brazilian Sandro. For Nacer Chadli, there was new England star Andros Townsend. For Roberto Soldado, there was English international Jermain Defoe. Andre Vilas-Boas’ side has so much depth now, it is just a matter of time before he finds the right mix and his best line-up. He might have done already, seeing the two wins to add to the point gained at home against the Champions at the start of the week. No matter what team he fields, they all have individual quality and are all equally adept at changing or winning games, it’s just how much they have gelled.
Rodgers will be sweating on the fitness of his skipper after Gerrard limped off after 60 minutes. However, if Gerrard does miss the game, Rodgers will be relieved to see Allen gain some form, and might just bring Lucas in as the skipper’s replacement alongside Allen. Henderson will continue to harry opponents, something going to be needed against Spurs’ attacking wingers.
Whether or not Sterling plays is the biggest question I guess, in terms of selection. Though he is in great form, he may be a little lightweight for this game. A rest for Sterling at Spurs and a start against Cardiff could be the best way to manage the youngster, who turned 19 this week. With Coutinho sure to start and Suarez up top, who to play on the other wing? Sterling is obviously one option, but if he is indeed rested, either Victor Moses or Luis Alberto will have to step up.
Though Rodgers might still play Sterling to keep the youngsters confidence and form up, don’t be surprised to see Rodgers spring a selection surprise in this one. My hunch is either Iago Aspas coming straight in upfront with Suarez in behind or on the left, or if Gerrard returns in time, Allen will go behind the striker, pushing Coutinho out wide and Henderson on the right-hand side of midfield – all constantly interchanging of course.
All in all, a draw would be a decent result at resurgent Spurs, but the aim should always be a win. Quite simply, Rodgers cannot lose this game.