The battle for the Champions League: Patchy Spurs head to rocky Liverpool to prove their Top Four status

The battle for the Champions League: Patchy Spurs head to rocky Liverpool to prove their Top Four statusLiverpool v Tottenham, Premier League, January 20, 2010

Liverpool 6/4; Draw 12/5; Tottenham 11/5

“I’d be lying if I stood here and said that the absence of Gerrard and Torres won’t matter. Of course, they are two world-class players, and they will miss them. But they have a strong squad. I have never been there and had an easy game. It is a difficult place to go.” – Harry Redknapp.

“We have a great chance. Probably the best chance we ever had to win at Anfield because of their injury problems. It’s Liverpool’s place in the top four we want. We said it from day one. We never hid our ambitions. We believe we are ready for that.” – Niko Kranjcar.

Redknapp and Kranjcar are unlikely to be aware that Spurs have only won seven games at Anfield in the history of the two clubs and Tottenham’s record is so woeful at Liverpool that they have only won three league games in the period since the First World War. Redknapp also has a poor record at Anfield, with four draws in 12 visits as a manager.

Putting the historical factors aside, there is no doubt that Spurs may never have a better chance to win at Anfield and in turn place a seven point gap between themselves and the Merseyside giants in the race for a Champions League place. (Tottenham are 14/5 to finish in the Top Four, Liverpool are 13/5.)

Liverpool’s problems have been well documented and not a day goes by without pundits questioning Rafa Benitez’s position at the club. The defeat to Reading in the FA Cup was hugely damaging not just due to morale but as in one game Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun all picked up injuries and will be sorely missed.

A battling performance at Stoke came close to providing a major lift until Robert Huth equalised at the back post. Although, Dark Kuyt’s late header on to the post suggests there may still be plenty of fight in this Liverpool side.

The major problem for Liverpool going into this game is where their goals will come from. (Liverpool are 12/5 to score in both halves.) A total of just 26 goals in 21 Premier League games goes some way to explaining their malaise and without their two talisman and arguably their best player this season, Rafa Benitez will be relying on some of the lesser lights in his side to breach a Spurs defence that has not conceded a goal in six successive games. (Tottenham are 3/1 to keep a clean sheet, 30/100 against.)

New signing Maxi Rodriguez is set for a full debut after an underwhelming cameo at the Britannia, Albert Riera and Alberto Aquilani could also come into the starting line up. David Ngog should lead the line and Dirk Kuyt will be hoping to capitalise on the defensive naivety of Tottenham left back Gareth Bale.

The midfield battle between Javier Mascherano and Wilson Palacios will be key to the encounter after the Honduran dominated in the opening match of the season when Spurs saw off Liverpool 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Coming swiftly on the heels of Xabi Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid, the defeat at Tottenham was a sign of things to come for Rafa Benitez.

Spurs may be fourth in the league and enjoying their best league campaign since the days of Martin Jol, but they don’t always secure the three points when they are expected to. A case in point was Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Hull.

Redknapp seems set to start with Peter Crouch in place of Robbie Keane (both ex-Liverpool strikers) and with Aaron Lennon still out, the creativity will be expected from Croatian playmakers Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar. (Tottenham are 3/1 to score in both halves, 1/5 against.)

With the top three pulling away at the weekend it looks more than likely that a four-way clash for the final Champions League spot should go down to the wire with Manchester City and Aston Villa the other protagonists.

This is a pivotal clash in the chase for the Champions League, which is underlined by the fact that Liverpool would be just one point behind fourth placed Spurs if they were to win on Wednesday night.

Tottenham could well be struck by stage fright, which has been evident in defeats at Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal this season and in disappointing home results against Stoke, Wolves and Hull. Liverpool can’t stay in this funk forever but it is difficult to pinpoint who is going to lead Rafa Benitez’s side to victory over a direct rival for fourth place.

101gg predicts: Liverpool 2 – Tottenham 2 (17/1)

Liverpool 6/4; Draw 12/5; Tottenham 11/5

Full match odds here.