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Spurs Odyssey Preview - Liverpool v Spurs, 01.05.99

This preview was written by Brian Judson

Full Record of Spurs -v- Liverpool

Prem          Pl   W   D   L  For-Ag  Pts
Home           7   2   3   2   11-12   9
Away           6   1   2   3    6-14   5
Total (Prem)  13   3   5   5   17-26  14
Football Lge
Home (Div 1)  49  24  10  15   73-58  62
Away (Div 1)  49   4  14  31   38-95  24
Total (Div 1) 98  28  24  46  111-153 86
Total (Prem)  13   3   5   5   17-26  14
Total (Div 1) 98  28  24  46  111-153 86
Grand Total  111  31  29  51  128-179 100

One wonders whether the shades of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley are resting easily these days. Aston Villa, Derby County, Leeds United and Leicester City have won at Anfield this season whilst Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Chelsea and West Ham United have all managed to leave Anfield in possession of a point as a result of their afternoon's labours. Liverpool have conceded a staggering 20 goals at Anfield this season, which is a highly unusual statistic in connection with a Liverpool team.

This season has been a very disappointing one for both camps on Merseyside where expectations are high that one or other of their teams will take silverware back to their boardroom when hostilities have been concluded. But this season will be the first for a very long time that Liverpool have not qualified to compete in European competition (excepting, of course, the ban they had to serve in the wake of Heysel).

It has not been difficult to pinpoint where their problems exist. The concession of 20 goals at Anfield coupled with the 24 they have conceded on their travels does tend to put their defence under the spotlight. This must be the worst defence Liverpool have had since their relegation to the Second Division at the end of season 1953-54, when they conceded 97 goals. It does not need further explanation when one is informed that goalkeeper David James has been nicknamed 'Calamity' by the Liverpool faithful. The Liverpool management, Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson, have finally lost patience with his idiosyncratic goalkeeping and appear to have told him to start looking for another club. In recent weeks, Brad Friedel, their American goalkeeper, has been first choice.

However, to be fair to David James, he has not enjoyed the best of defenders. None of the current defenders would probably be regarded as good enough for any Liverpool reserve side of the great years. Whilst Jamie Carragher does appear to have some nous, one wonders how Dominic Matteo persuaded his management he has been worthy of a place in the defence. It is hard to see some of the present squad surviving in other eras.

Robbie Fowler has missed a large chunk of the season through injury and suspension. His indiscretions in a recent Liverpool match attracted the attention of the Football Association, which has led to the premature end of his season. There have been rumours that Fowler may indicate to his management during the close season that he would like to ply his trade elsewhere. Steve McManaman will shortly be ending a 12-year association with Liverpool as he has agreed to join Real Madrid in the summer. One wonders whether McManaman will be successful in Spain given his reluctance to be a team player at times. If, as seems likely, Fowler joins McManaman in leaving Anfield, the speculation surrounding Michael Owen is bound to increase. Owen has indicated he is happy to continue playing for Liverpool for the moment but recently warned the time might come when he would have to look elsewhere if he wanted to win honours. One wonders how apoplectic the shades of Bill Shankly were when they heard such heresy.

It is difficult to pinpoint the moment the Liverpool decline from greatness began. But I would venture to suggest that something died in the Liverpool psyche on the day of that awful tragedy at Hillsborough. I don't think the then-manager Kenny Dalglish was the same after that. One remembers the haunted and drawn figure he cut when he announced to the press that he was leaving Liverpool after 13 years as a player and a manager. The injudicious signings of Graeme Souness, Dalglish's successor, hastened their decline. Players such as Neil Ruddock and Julian Dicks were just two of the misfits who played for Liverpool in those days. The decline proved too difficult for Souness' successor, Roy Evans, to halt. Gerard Houllier's first season as manager has seen how far Liverpool have slipped from their high standards. Former stalwarts Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson have been scathing about the lack of quality players in the current Liverpool squad.

Tottenham have already beaten Liverpool twice this season. They won 3-1 at Anfield in the Worthington Cup with a superb performance that gave warning that they were on the way back after some seasons of mind numbing mediocrity. They confirmed this when they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Tottenham. The chance is there for Tottenham to complete a rare whitewash of Liverpool and to climb above them in the table.

However, Spurs have slipped somewhat in recent weeks since winning the Cup at Wembley. They have won two games out of the five played for League points but in neither victory did they particularly impress as victory over Nottingham Forest and Charlton Athletic should have been a foregone conclusion. The manner of their defeat in the FA Cup Semi-Final against Newcastle United, whose season has been mediocre to say the least, was also unsatisfactory. The attitude of those picked to play at Anfield has to be exemplary if Tottenham are to conclude a trio of victories over Liverpool. One would like to think Tottenham will strive to do so. Certainly George Graham expects them to do so but will the players listen to him, knowing they do not have the bother of qualifying for Europe to consider.

*IF* (and I consider it is a very big 'IF') Tottenham adopt the right attitude and buckle down to the task in hand, they are indeed capable of taking the game to Liverpool and winning. We saw plenty of evidence of that in both of this season's earlier matches. In that event, I would expect Tottenham to win. But if, as they have recently been prone to do so, Tottenham are lackadaisical in their approach to the game, I would not be surprised to see Liverpool win by a margin of two or three goals. The key to winning this game will be whether Tottenham can apply pressure to the nervy Liverpool defence.

Certainly the days when Tottenham could be a beaten side before they left the dressing room should be a memory from the past as the surging Spion Kop is no more. It was worth a goal's start because of the electricity and frisson they created. The demise of the Kop has played its part in the decline of Liverpool's fortunes ......

Cheers, Brian

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