The Big Match Tactical View: Tottenham v Liverpool

Rodgers versus Villas-Boas - who will come out on top?
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Two bright young managers face each other at White Hart Lane - Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle and picks out his best bets.

The pace of Bale, Lennon and Defoe will cause problems
Back Tottenham in Draw No Bet at [1.8]

Tottenham v Liverpool, Wednesday 19:45.

Match Odds: Tottenham [2.48], Liverpool [3.05], The Draw [3.6].

Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers found themselves in similar positions this summer - taking over big clubs from established, old-school Premier League managers, and trying to get their sides playing proactive, passing football

They're young, they're media-friendly, they both use technical footballing terms that prompt laughter from those unconvinced of their abilities. Both men worked under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, but both cite Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side as a major influence, and will defend poor results this season by relentlessly defending their 'project'. The clash of the two football philosophers should produce an exciting game at White Hart Lane.

Both sides will seek to dominate possession, although both have played increasingly purposeful football in recent weeks. Liverpool are getting the ball to Luis Suarez more quickly, while Villas-Boas dared to play a 4-4-2 away at the Emirates, although Emmanuel Adebayor is still banned as a result of his red card there, meaning Jermain Defoe will play upfront tonight, with Clint Dempsey behind.

Equally important to the balance of play will be the level of pressing. Luis Suarez is the best centre-forward in the league in terms of leading closing down from the front, while Defoe and Dempsey committed the majority of Spurs' fouls in the weekend win over West Ham, illustrating their commitment to the defensive cause. Both sides have good ball players in defence, too, which will encourage each other to close down.

But the timing of this match is problematic - sandwiched between league games, and with both sides having competed in the Europa League last week (albeit with rotated sides), fitness levels come into play, and the sides might be more reactive than their managers would desire.

The midfield zone will be key. As always, Rodgers must decide whether he wants to play a '1-2' or a '2-1' in midfield - one solid holder with two bombing on, or two deeper and one outright creator? It's been tricky to predict his selections so far this season, but I think he'll want to rotate his side, and Jonjo Shelvey might get a game at the top of the midfield triangle, pressing and fighting high up the pitch without the ball.

Villas-Boas' big decisions have often concerned his front two, but Defoe is a certain starter after his brace at the weekend, while Dempsey played well enough to keep Gylfi Sigurdsson out of the side. Instead, the Portuguese manager must decide whether to start Mousa Dembele in the centre of midfield - the Belgian has appeared as a substitute in the last two matches, gradually returning from injury, but is he fit enough to start? In a midfield zone likely to be fast and technical, he'll surely be favoured over Tom Huddlestone if he's anything close to fully fit.

Elsewhere, the key battle will be down Tottenham's left, and Liverpool's right. There, Raheem Sterling will trouble Jan Vertonghen with his direct dribbling - Vertonghen is a fine defender and has coped well by being played (slightly) out of position at left-back, but against quick wingers like Nani and Theo Walcott, he's encountered problems. 

However, Sterling's defensive abilities are more questionable - he works hard, but can have lapses in concentration, and you wonder how much support he'll offer Andre Wisdom against Gareth Bale. Alternatively, Rodgers might choose to use Glen Johnson in his preferred position at right-back - rather than on the left - that should lead to more security.

I think Tottenham will get a result here - confidence should be high following the weekend win, and the quick trio of Bale, Defoe and Aaron Lennon should be able to sprint in behind the Liverpool defence. Backing Tottenham at [1.8] in the Draw No Bet market sounds good.

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Back Tottenham in Draw No Bet at [1.8]

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