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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 3 days ago
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 By Steven Kelly
Aug 29, 2014

Liverpool not expecting Spurs gifts

The ESPN FC panel discusses the signing of Mario Balotelli and the adverse effect he might have on his new Liverpool side.

They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but in league football that desire for evening up the score rarely gets a chance to cool down. It is often only a matter of months before any team gets a chance to ease its pain against their heinous inflictors.

Tottenham lost quite dismally 4-0 at Anfield last season, but it is the 5-0 drubbing on their own soil that will rankle the most. It was a rare double over the Londoners for Liverpool, and never has there been one quite so emphatic.

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Even when the Spurs side that featured Argentinian stars Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa lost 7-0 at Anfield in 1978 -- a game that helped convince this writer to become a regular attendee rather than an infrequent observer -- they managed a creditable 0-0 draw in the White Hart Lane return.

In the modern era the spoils are usually divided by home advantage, so the Londoners will want to hit back strongly. If the sight of even Jon Flanagan getting a goal against you doesn't stir up the blood and stiffen the sinews, what will?

It's the sort of hammering that often urges opponents on to greater efforts to ensure it never happens again. Liverpool themselves aren't used to such heavy losses. The worst I can recall were the Chelsea league games in 2005-06: a 1-4 and 0-2, which even then was followed by knocking Jose Mourinho and company out of the FA Cup weeks later. You never have long to wait for your comeuppance in this game.

Liverpool supporters have actually had the name of Tottenham thrown at them a lot this summer, after also losing their team's best player for big money and then spending it all on five or six new players. The term "doing a Spurs" has therefore become ingrained in the red psyche as a very bad thing indeed.

Unfairly so. The difference between Gareth Bale's last season in Spurs white and their first season without him was a mere three points. When you factor in a midseason managerial change -- immediately after Liverpool hammered them, coincidentally -- that isn't so bad after all.

A similar record for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers post-Suarez would result in an 81-point season for Liverpool. I know few supporters who wouldn't take that right now. The immediate challenge of coping without a world-class talent while hoping a clutch of new buys will blend in seamlessly is an enormous one.

Most neutrals are assuming Liverpool's place in the top four is the most vulnerable of the lot and Tottenham are one of a handful of clubs doubly determined to take it this year after recent failures of their own. Manchester City and Chelsea's wealth and power, combined with Arsenal's modern history, leads the same neutrals to conclude those three clubs will finish top four again, so the spotlight of potential failure burns most brightly upon the Reds.

Philippe Coutinho and Liverpool had two easy romps last season against Tottenham.
Philippe Coutinho and Liverpool had two easy romps last season against Tottenham.

This coming year ought to tell people a lot about the current Liverpool team, about its courage and its character. Thursday saw differing European experiences for the two clubs facing each other on Sunday. One relished a dream draw with Real Madrid in the major competition, while the other efficiently dispatched a team from Cyprus in the minor competition without using many players who will be needed on Sunday.

The topic of each club's destiny in Europe has therefore come to the surface incredibly early in the new season. The Londoners have started well, but new boss Mauricio Pochettino faces his first big test on Sunday, one he will probably relish. He had two good results against Liverpool in 2013, and with all due respect to Southampton, he was clearly destined for better things.

Like Rodgers, a good first season in the Premier League with an "unfashionable" club has resulted in an almost immediate upgrade. Liverpool showed faith in their man despite his average opening year and were rewarded. Tottenham have been notoriously trigger-happy with their managers over the years, almost comically so, therefore their new man will be desperate for a good start.

A lot of the media focus will inevitably be on Mario Balotelli. Liverpool fans will be hoping for a glimmer of clairvoyance within the new striking partnership. As I wrote in this blog post on Philippe Coutinho, there will be a lot of experimentation from Rodgers this coming autumn, and hopefully some magical formula will be discovered quickly that helps the club match its fine achievements from last year.

The young Italian will take a place away from one of the midfield, probably Coutinho, given his poor start. That then instigates a tricky discussion about balance, whether there is then enough creativity left to service two gifted strikers. So maybe Joe Allen will have to step aside instead? And when will Lazar Markovic be making his entrance? Rodgers could well be yearning for the days when he didn't have so many choices to make!

Two defeats from the opening three games rarely augurs well for any team. I can recall Gerard Houllier having a half decent season that recovered from early defeats to Watford and Middlesbrough, but it would not suit Rodgers' purpose to have his new plans questioned so early in the season -- especially when there will be a two-week break for internationals.

That's a long time to dwell on failure, however short-term it is. There is a lot riding on this fixture, even if it is only the third league game of the season. Their difficulty will be a mitigating factor, but the worries would still surface.

Spurs have begun well without actually having to face anybody difficult. In their 4-0 win over QPR, names emerged that were part of the Bale counter-spend, names that sparked nothing but drollery last season. A year with their new club, added to a gifted young manager who actually knows what he is doing, may result in some significant changes for the better this year.

In a strange way that might actually help Liverpool supporters out. If their own new players should also struggle with the task of playing well for a new club, one that also relied quite heavily on a superstar who's no longer present, supporters can always turn to a resurgent Spurs and use them as a template for patience being ultimately rewarded.

Why, it's almost enough to make you hope for a Tottenham win. Almost ...

Steven Kelly

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and was the editor of the popular LFC fanzine Through The Wind & Rain from 1989 to its final issue in 2008. He has written a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner since 2002 and produced the book "Rotation Rotation Rotation" in 2008. Find him on Twitter @goat_boy_1959.

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