Two Premier League clubs with identical aims this season have started their 2013/2014 campaign in an incredibly identical fashion. Liverpool and Tottenham sit in 2nd place and 3rd place respectively, separated by alphabetical order alone, having claimed six points from two games each, with all four fixtures ending with 1-0 scorelines, decided by strikes from the Reds’ Daniel Sturridge and Spurs’ Roberto Soldado alone.
Both sides have shown great efficiency as they chase down Champions League qualification, a must in any successful campaign, but we are yet to see either produce the kind of style required to topple top four benchmarks Arsenal.
Tottenham’s sturdy yet unceremonious start to the season is undoubtedly the effect of the North Londoners’ recent signings. Paulinho, and Etienne Capoue along with Moussa Dembele have been heading up the midfield engine room, and for what they lack in creativity, they certainly make up for in physical robustness. The Brazilian put in an exceptionally tidy display against Crystal Palace, recording four tackles and a pass completion ratio of 92%, and the versatile Capoue finished up against Swansea with similar statistics.
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Spurs have looked like an incredibly athletic, incredibly intense and powerful machine with their new look in central midfield. But their mechanical style has come at the expense of aesthetic attacking play, and the Lilywhites are still missing Gareth Bale’s talismanic influence going forward. They showed greater invention against Swansea with 27 shots at goal, but that penetration in and around the box is still lacking.
New signing Roberto Soldado is already proving how vital he’ll be to Tottenham’s campaign, with three goals in three games including his Europa League outing, but the Spaniard will be hoping to receive more support in the coming fixtures and better service, being a rather isolated element at times.
It should be enough however to rival Arsenal’s might in the coming North London derby this weekend. Whether by accident or design, Spurs’ physical midfield makes the White Hart Lane outfit almost the complete anti-arsenal package, and if the Lilywhites’ musclemen are up for the fight, they should be able to grind out another result in a similar fashion to their opening fixtures by outmuscling the Gunners’ lightweight midfield.
And if Spurs can gain ground on their divisional and regional rivals with three points on Sunday, they’ll then be in a position where the focus can change from results to performance and style. Andre Villas-Boas is expected to bring in further signings before deadline day, that could remedy Soldado’s isolation as a lone striker.
The signing of Erik Lamela from Roma, at the cost of £30million was completed today, and the Argentine prodigy is the perfect candidate for the No.10 role behind the striker, with great invention, craft and technique, as well as an eye for goal. Some have anticipated he’ll be utilised on the left more often than not, but the North Londoners have also been linked with Ajax starlet Christian Eriksen, who is also more than capable of filling up the creative void, having recorded four assists in six Champions League performances last term.
At Liverpool, the situation is more a work in progress. Brendan Rodgers has maintained his emphasis on possession-based attacking football, with 11 shots on target against Stoke on the opening day of the season, and 17 in total against Aston Villa. The Reds’ packed midfield has produced good football, with new signing Iago Aspas fitting well into their 4-2-3-1 formation and already able to link up with Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge,.
But they’ve still heavily relied upon Daniel Sturridge to provide that vital cutting edge, and the England international has shown unbelievable talent in the opening two Premier League fixtures to conjure up two goals of great individual brilliance. There’s a lot of pressure on young shoulders to stand in for the suspended Luis Suarez, but Sturridge is already showing he has the capability and right mentality to do so.
Most importantly for the Reds however is their two clean sheets so far this season. Last term, it seemed Liverpool were cursed by the number of almost certain victories that slipped away from them, with their 13 draws the second highest in the Premier League’s top half. Individual errors and uninspiring defending continually threw results away, but veteran addition Kolo Toure appears to have already added to the level of quality at the back, whilst overtaking from the retired Jamie Carragher with his leadership qualities. Along with the calming influence of Simon Mignolet in comparison to the hap-hazard Pepe Reina, Liverpool have looked incredibly sturdy in defense.
Match ups against predicted mid-tablers Stoke and Aston Villa has allowed the Reds the opportunity to settle, but their coming clash against Manchester United at the weekend will be a huge test. The Reds tend to dominate games for early spells before taking their foot off the gas and relieving pressure. Against the Premier League champions, they’ll have to put in a top performance for a full ninety minutes, and they can’t rely upon Sturridge alone to the produce the goods going forward, especially against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who excelled during Monday night’s clash with Chelsea.
Of course, the question mark for Liverpool is what happens when Luis Suarez comes back, barring a deadline day move to either Arsenal or Real Madrid, which is becoming less and less likely as time goes on. But judging from how the Anfield outfit have started their campaign, the Uruguayan can only add that extra creativity and cutting edge in front of goal they’ve lacked throughout periods during their previous Premier League clashes. If we’re already seeing shades of style from Liverpool, Suarez’ return will make them a formidable threat to the top four.
But overall, both need to begin applying their craft with more dominant displays sooner rather than later. Granted, the Premier League is a results-based business and three points is three points, but there’s nothing better at getting the fans and the players in full flow than putting in stellar performances. Just as grinding out victories and draws when required to is vitally important, so is every team’s boom period of the season, and the only way to extend that spell of high form for as long as possible is to establish style.
With both Tottenham and Liverpool facing their first big tests of the season this weekend in the form of Arsenal and Manchester United respectively however, in the comingweeks we should see both teams open up more and put in more dominant displays. The Reds and the Lilywhites both have the potential to be excellent footballing sides, and there won’t be much separating the two as they gun for Champions League football. They’ve started their campaigns in almost identical fashion, and I expect they’ll finish up in a similar vein.
Can Spurs and Liverpool produce their style in the next few weeks?
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