For probably the first time in the past 5 years have the top teams recognized Liverpool as a genuine contender for the title. Standing atop the Premier League with 9 points from 3 games, Brendan Rodgers is stamping his authority on the Premier League. Having won the Manager of the Month trophy, Rodgers will expect to continue his string of good results in Wales on Sunday.
However, his Dutch counterpart at Swansea is not to be taken so lightly. Having been on a brilliant campaign last year, Swansea have established themselves as one of the contenders for the European spot this year. Michael Laudrup’s extensive knowledge about Spanish football has helped him buy quality players from the La Liga at unmistakable bargains. He completed a loan move for Getafe striker Alvaro Vazquez on deadline day.
Likewise, Rodgers too has done some brilliant business in the window. The biggest of which was retaining Luis Suarez after speculations of his departure throughout the summer. While Liverpool are presently a very good team, Luis Suarez is the man who can get them the Premier League trophy.
The second was the signing of Simon Mignolet from Sunderland. The Belgian virtually won the match for Liverpool on the opening day when he saved a penalty and made some world-class saves
Rodgers also signed Iago Aspas from Celta de Vigo, who has found his feet playing alongside Sturridge. He bought in Kolo Toure on a free transfer from the Etihad as a replacement Jamie Carragher. On the deadline day, he signed Victor Moses for a season-long loan from Chelsea as well as Tiago Illori. However the biggest coup on the deadline day was the signing of 23-year old Mohammed Sakho for £18m from PSG, a player known for his versatility.
Ahead of this mouth-watering clash let’s take a look at the key battles on the pitch.
Sturridge v Ashley Williams
Sturridge has had an electric first month in this season’s Premier League. He has proved himself as one of the best strikers in the Premier League and has also won the “Player of the Month” award for January. Liverpool never really felt the absence of Luis Suarez due to the excellent performances put in by Sturridge
On Sunday he will come up against one of the toughest defenders in the League. Ashley Williams is an excellent defender, who tackles well, is extremely good in the air and is one of the best in the league.
Sturridge is a player who involves himself in link-up play and makes man-marking him a tough job for anyone. Williams will have to be quick and keep a check on Sturridge throughout the match. Sturridge times his runs to perfection and operates between the center backs. His understanding with Coutinho and Gerrard has become very good. His off-the ball movement draws defenders out of their position and allows the second striker to make his run.
Sturridge plays more like a False 9 interchanging positions with the attackers. Another advantage in his game is his pace and dribbling ability. Although not as much as Suarez, he does possess a fair number of tricks to beat his man. Overall, Sturridge does play similar to the way that Robin Van Persie does.
The last time, Ashley Williams faced Van Persie, he was shown a clean pair of heels by Van Persie who scored two goals that night.
So this time, Williams must make sure he isn’t caught out of position leaving Sturridge with space.
This does promise to be a tough time for both men
Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard v Leon Britton and Jonjo Shelvey
In today’s game , the midfield is where the match is decided. These four men are pivotal to their team’s fluidity in attack and the game will be played around them.
In Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have an able central midfielder who can do the dirty work as well as dictate the pace of the game. His long passing range and vision will be vital for Liverpool along with his leadership skills. He would be the ball-carrier in Rodgers set-up and Laudrup must enforce one man to keep him out of the game. One thing Steven Gerrard is not adept at is playing as a box-to-box midfielder. He doesn’t retain possession as well as he has done in the recent past and his decreasing pace has led to him becoming more of a defensive midfielder. He hasn’t got the energy that he had few years ago and cannot run for the full ninety minutes.
Leon Britton is Michael Laudrup’s answer for dealing with the threat of Coutinho and Gerrard. He usually plays between the opposition’s attacking midfielder and the defensive midfielder. He positional sense is excellent which leads on to him having a high rate of interception. He has forged a good partnership with Shelvey ever the since the season began. Shelvey’s attacking instincts and clever play has led to Britton taking up more of a defensive role.
What Britton must do is watch out for the movement of Coutinho around the midfielders. Coutinho, a classic Brazilian No.10 likes to operate within the spaces and is capable of finding the forward with an extraordinary pass out of nowhere. If Britton keeps Coutinho from advancing forward and puts pressure on him, he would naturally be inclined to pass backwards, thereby stopping supply to Sturridge.
Coutinho on the other hand, must find a way to break of Leon Britton and acquire space to create an impact on the game. He can find Sturridge who would be making his late run behind the defenders. His nimble-footed tricks and feints must allow him to shake off his markers.
Shelvey was described by Clarke Carlisle as being the ‘Quarterback’ of Swansea’s team against Malmo. Unlike many other English players, Shelvey is someone who just brings everyone into the game. His clever movement around the front four would bring defenders out of their position. He has the ability to find the forward with an exquisite through pass between the defenders. Steven Gerrard should keep Shelvey in his pockets throughout the match and try his best to not let Shelvey dictate the pace of the game.
Michu and Wilfried Bony v Simon Mignolet
Usually, it would have been a forward against a defender. But this time I am going on two strikers against one goalkeeper. As much as Liverpool have performed above expectations this season, they must owe a good part of it to their goalkeeper Simon Mignolet who is yet to concede a goal this season after signing for Liverpool from Sunderland. Anonther player of the Belgium golden generation is making waves in the Premier League.
Having taken over the goalkeeping reins from Reina, Mignolet has impressed everyone and has proved that he is one of the best in the Premier League. Now, he comes up against two of the more daunting strikers in the Premier League. Wilfried bony, has impressed since his arrival, scoring on the opening day. Michu, as we all know can make the best defenses look meek. They showed in the Europa League that they could play together and have formed a solid partnership.
Now, they are facing a defense which is yet to concede a goal this season and a goalkeeper who has made the best strikers look ordinary. While Wilfried Bony is an out and out striker, Michu operates as a False nine getting in between the center backs and at the same time creating chances for his teammates. Another thing Mignolet should be careful is set-pieces. Both of them are extremely good at set-pieces and are adept at beating their man in the air. This can be warranted by the fact that Michu had scored the most no. of headed goals last season.
This match may end in Michu and Bony cutting a frustrated figure. Or it may end up having seen Mignolet let the ball go past him for the first time this season.
Whatever happens we do have an exciting clash on the cards