LIVERPOOL, February 9 – Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel is relying on the Reds’ defensive improvement to help them nullify the attacking threat of Tottenham Hotspur when the two rivals for a top four place meet at Anfield on Tuesday.
Tottenham head to Merseyside on the back of a 2-1 North London derby win over Arsenal which lifted them to fifth place in the Premier League table.
In-form striker Harry Kane scored twice to take his season’s total to 22 goals as Spurs extended their advantage over Liverpool, who are seventh, to four points in the race for a Champions League place.
Liverpool were held to a goalless draw in their own derby last weekend as they took only a point from a visit to Everton.
But Brendan Rodgers’ side, who’ve lost just one of their last 14 games, kept a fourth successive clean sheet in the league to underline their recent form at the back.
And central defender Skrtel is looking for more of the same as Liverpool look to repeat their victory at Tottenham last August to enhance their prospects of Champions League qualification.
“We have changed the system to a back three and it is working for us,” said the Slovakian international.
“We are defending much better. It suits us. I hope we can carry on this way in the future.
“I’m happy for the team because we have improved our defending. There was a lot of criticism. Since New Year, we have only conceded one goal from open play — that’s great and I’m happy about that.”
Skrtel described Tottenham’s visit to Anfield as a “big game”, with Liverpool facing little margin for error as they continue to recover from a poor start to the season which saw them win just four of their first 12 league games.
He added: “Tottenham are a few points in front of us. It’s going to be a big game.
“I believe and hope we can beat them and get three points. But every single game is important for us.
“We’ll go game by game, try to get as many points as we can and try to finish in the top four.”
– Spurs on the up –
Liverpool will be without midfielder Lucas Leiva after he suffered the recurrence of an abductor muscle strain in Saturday’s game at Everton, where 19-year-old winger Jordon Ibe impressed on only his second league start.
Ibe hopes to have done enough to stay in the side to face Tottenham and help Liverpool finish in the top four after returning from a loan spell at Championship side Derby County.
Meanwhile, Kane is enjoying an unforgettable season and his performance against Arsenal prompted more calls for the forward to be fast-tracked into Roy Hodgson’s England squad.
The 21-year-old’s form has strengthened Tottenham’s belief they can force their way into the top four, although goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said credit for Spurs’ recent progress should be shared throughout Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
“We’ve worked hard since the beginning of the season and we feel that we are improving individually and collectively, which is very important,” said the France international after the victory over Arsenal.
“We must remember we are only talking about one game. There are a lot of games until the end of the season so we need to be focused and calm.
“It was a great feeling after the (Arsenal) game to share the joy with all our fans and I think we can be proud of our performance.
“Now we have to think about the next game at Liverpool, which is coming really quickly.”