Tottenham v Liverpool: No contest so far as Average Joe meets Van der Vaart

IT IS almost scary to think that, three months ago, Harry Redknapp was ruing his failure to recruit Joe Cole, who had declined the opportunity to rejoin his old boss and signed for Liverpool instead.

An alternative reality which sees Cole at White Hart Lane and Van der Vaart elsewhere is not far-fetched at all – and, with the value of hindsight, it is a fairly frightening vision.

With just over a third of the season gone, both players have played 13 times for their new clubs. Van der Vaart has scored eight times while Cole has netted just once – in the Europa League against Steaua Bucharest.

There is no comparison – apart from the fact that both have missed a penalty this season, and both have been sent off.

Cole’s lack of goals is symptomatic of generally poor performances and, having been involved in a string of ropey results, the 29-year-old suffered a hamstring injury which has ruled him out of the last five matches.

Liverpool promptly bagged their best result of the season, beating his former club Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield in their next league game.

Cole is set to return against Spurs and Hodgson will welcome him back with open arms after losing Steven Gerrard to a hamstring injury, sustained on England duty last week.

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Interestingly, the loss of Liverpool’s talismanic captain may play into Cole’s hands, giving him the central role which he demanded while weighing up his suitors in the summer.

The England international sees himself in the role which Van der Vaart has recently played for Spurs, operating behind the frontman, but has instead often found himself out on the left side of a

4-2-3-1 formation.

That could change this weekend, so there can be few excuses if he is stifled by the team he rejected in the summer – or overshadowed by a certain Dutchman.

If Liverpool fans are underwhelmed by their grandstand summer signing, the jury is also out on ex-Fulham left-back Paul Konchesky and midfielders Christian Poulsen (formerly of Juventus), Raul Meireles (FC Porto) and Milan Jovanovic (Standard Liege).

While Reds fans understand that they are undergoing a rebuilding process under Hodgson, it is hard to shake the feeling that these are ‘not Liverpool players’.

The Merseysiders have certainly traded down since losing Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and that really hit home as the Reds found themselves in the drop zone with six points from eight games after their worst start since 1953-54.

The lowest ebb came in October with a 2-1 loss to Blackpool at Anfield, followed by a 2-0 derby defeat at Everton, but Liverpool have recovered to take 13 points from a possible 18.

That is mostly due to four successive home wins and a resurgent Fernando Torres, who scored just once in his first 10 Liverpool games of the season but has now netted three in four.

However, the Reds continue to struggle on the road, taking just five points from a possible 21 and winning just once on their travels – ironically at Bolton, who have only lost that one game at the Reebok thus far.

In fairness, Liverpool have had a tough set of away days, travelling to face Manchester City, Birmingham, Manchester United, Everton, Bolton, Wigan and Stoke.

However, their lack of resilience in those games will still hearten a Tottenham team who fancy their chances against anyone at the Lane.

JournalSport verdict: Spurs have hosted Liverpool on three occasions under Redknapp, and won every time. This is the weakest Reds side for many years, and it is more reliant than ever on a small handful of stars.

While Torres is looking increasingly sharp again, the Merseysiders can ill-afford to be missing Steven Gerrard for their trip to N17 – especially when their away form has been so poor.

Prediction: Spurs 3 Liverpool 1