How Will Rodgers Replace Lucas?

Liverpool have problems in midfield ahead of the Merseyside derby, while Everton need Romelu Lukaku to rediscover his scoring touch. Plus, it's a big one for David Moyes as usual...

Last Updated: 28/01/14 at 09:46 Post Comment

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Tim Sherwood
We've been mightily impressed with Tim Sherwood thus far. Five wins and a draw in his first six Premier League matches have lifted Tottenham into fifth and level on points with Liverpool, while Spurs have also notched 14 goals in that period - one fewer than their total when Andre Villas-Boas departed.

However, despite these achievements there are still doubts over the new manager's style, which at times has seemed like a sarcastic impression of Harry Redknapp. The manner of the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal was troubling, but even more worrying was Sherwood's stubborn reaction to suggestions that Spurs were a man light in midfield.

"A lot is made of systems - 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or whatever you want to call it," he said. "It's about passing the ball to your own team and keeping hold of it because when you lose the ball you are always going to be out of shape - otherwise you are going to be a rigid, boring team.

"It's about funnelling back in, shuffling across. I don't think we were overrun in the middle of the park. I think they did all right."

While Sherwood was roundly mocked for his response, claims that he has restricted himself to a rigid 4-4-2 formation are wide of the mark. It may look that way on paper, but in reality there has been encouraging variation to Spurs' play, with Christian Eriksen adopting a free role from the left and Emmanuel Adebayor dropping deep to link midfield and attack.

Wednesday's opponents Manchester City have proved there is no need to be sniffy towards 4-4-2 despite its little Englander connotations, and Spurs have shown much more intelligence under Sherwood than he is given credit for. A dire first half against Crystal Palace was followed by a much-improved performance after the break, while a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation against Swansea helped to out-number the hosts in midfield and disrupt their usual passing game.

Wednesday will be a different story, of course, but Sherwood will relish the opportunity to stick one in the eye of his critics. He has spoken candidly about his need to secure a place in the top four to ensure he lasts beyond the end of the season, and the test against City offers a marker of where Spurs stand in the race. If Sherwood can encourage his team to attack but remain tight in defence, he can take a huge step towards being analysed in his own right, rather than being continually dissected through the prism of his predecessors.


Liverpool's Midfield
After Steven Gerrard admitted to being overrun against Aston Villa, Brendan Rodgers has a big decision to make regarding his midfield selection in Lucas' absence. Can the captain fulfil the Brazilian's holding role against an Everton side who counter-attack at speed, or should Jordan Henderson be tasked with sweeping up in front of the defence? The thought of playing a centre-back in the position certainly doesn't appeal.

To underline just how important Lucas is to Liverpool's performances, when he was injured for three months at the start of last season the Reds won only six of 20 fixtures. The 27-year-old averages the second highest number of tackles per game in the Premier League this season, providing the necessary cover that allows the team's more creative talents freedom to roam.

That Rodgers failed to sign an understudy to Lucas in the summer can only be seen as poor preparation for the campaign, and finding a replacement amongst his ranks at this stage is not an easy task. The manager has allowed himself to become distracted by title talk in recent weeks, but it is imperative that he re-trains his sights on the short term to find a solution to this particular conundrum. If he fails to do so, Liverpool could be left cruelly exposed against Everton, risking a potentially catastrophic derby defeat.


Everton
After failing to win any of their last seven meetings with Liverpool, the Toffees enter Tuesday's clash in confident mood. They have lost only twice all season - the fewest number of defeats in the top flight - and proved against Manchester United and Arsenal that they are capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best (and United) in the division. Victory on Tuesday would emphasise that they are in the Champions League race for the long haul - and who would have expected that at the start of the season?


Romelu Lukaku
If Everton are to triumph against Liverpool, it's likely they'll need Romelu Lukaku to shrug off the recent poor form that has seen him score only once in nine matches.

"It looks like I'm becoming more and more of a target-man," grumbled Lukaku last week. "That's not my best role. I want to make runs and look for the space in behind defenders.

"Hopefully, that will change. I'll have to make sure I play better in the next games, and create more chances for myself."

With Lukaku scoring four goals in only three appearances against Liverpool, there is perhaps no better opponent to help him find his shooting boots again.


Juan Mata
A lot is expected of Mata following his £37.1m move to Manchester United, but his lack of game time recently could mean the Spaniard takes a while to get up to speed. A home match against the team in 20th offers the playmaker a relatively easy debut and he will hope to make more of an impact than Marouane Fellaini has managed in his United career thus far.

With Wayne Rooney expected to be on the bench, it is likely Mata will start in the coveted No.10 role he lost to Oscar at Chelsea. It might be his only opportunity to audition for the part, and he will need to make a big impression to avoid eventually being pushed out to the wings.


David Moyes
It's simple really - bag three easy points against Cardiff with a convincing performance and take advantage of tricky fixtures for Liverpool, Everton and Spurs.

United could go into Saturday's clash at Stoke just four points behind fourth place, which would provide huge encouragement after a disastrous start to 2014. With Mata arriving on a four-and-a-half year contract, the champions should expect to experience a boost similar to the 'Ozil effect' at Arsenal, and it is Moyes' responsibility to ensure he makes the most of the feel-good factor currently surrounding the club.

The biggest challenge for the manager is to show that he can coach a convincing style of play to eke more consistency out of United - an aim that should be aided greatly by the capture of Mata. However, the Spaniard's signing equally leaves Moyes with no further excuses following his limp start. He needs to win and win well against Cardiff to kick-start an up-turn in fortunes, otherwise doubts over his credentials will soon begin to reappear.

If Mata's arrival papers over the cracks, it's now time for Moyes to apply the Polyfill.


Manchester City
"I wanted to change all of my players at half-time, all 11 of them," said Manuel Pellegrini after Man City battled back from two goals down to beat Watford.

"The whole team was a disaster in the first half. If you don't play with 100 percent intensity and desire you can lose and go out of the competition and we were jogging in the first half. If you play like that you can't win."

Concerns over City's complacency had disappeared following eight wins in ten away matches, but Saturday's showing provided a timely warning before the trip to Spurs. The biggest danger to City's title hopes is their own failure to focus, which isn't entirely surprising given how easy they have found things at home this season.

If they approach Wednesday's clash at Spurs with the same lackadaisical attitude they exhibited in the firsthalf against Watford, it's unlikely they will be able to mount such a convincing recovery after the break.


Sunderland
Buoyed by seeing off Manchester United in the League Cup, Sunderland have the perfect opportunity to pick up three points on Wednesday at home to Stoke. With Cardiff travelling to Old Trafford and West Ham playing at Chelsea, it's a chance for the Black Cats to climb out of the bottom three and open up a bit of a gap to their rivals. It should be a straightforward mission, but Gus Poyet will be wary of recent slip-ups at home to Southampton, Norwich and Aston Villa that saw Sunderland pick up only two points from three 'must-win' matches.


Crystal Palace
While Sunderland's aim is to climb out of the bottom three, Palace can climb within touching distance of the top half with a win against Hull at Selhurst Park.


Swansea and Fulham
Fulham have more away wins (three) than Swansea have managed at home (two) this season, which should provide huge encouragement to Rene Meulensteen's side ahead of Tuesday's six-pointer. With rookie Dan Burn partnering the returning Brede Hangeland in defence, the Cottagers have looked a lot more solid at the back and will hope to withstand a tough test against the in-form Wilfried Bony, who has six goals in his last five matches.

For the Swans, it's time Michael Laudrup put his finger on their struggles this season. Injuries have played a part, but the worry for supporters is that the Dane is not prepared to get his hands dirty in a relegation dogfight. Anything other than a win on Tuesday will leave serious concerns over the club's survival fight with another enormous match against West Ham to come on Saturday.


Stoke
Five defeats in seven matches in all competitions and sliding precariously close to the relegation battle. A defeat to Sunderland on Wednesday will mark the end of Mark Hughes transitional period and the start of a bloody survival fight.


Arsenal
The recent chaos at Southampton should not blur Arsenal's focus. Saints will pose a tough test on Tuesday and the Gunners could do with six points this week ahead of an incredibly difficult run of fixtures in February.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

Mumblybum - except for the Man Utd fans, of course. bobsy - Not sure you can disprove the Ozil effect when Arsenal are top of the league in January for the first time in years. And I don't think the Ozil effect even means that Ozil has to be playing well.
- Gab1965

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I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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