With Manchester United’s Robin van Persie having gone off the boil at the season’s most pivotal moment, it looks as though Anfield will host an audition for Player of the Year on Sunday when Liverpool host Tottenham Hotspur and Luis Suarez goes head-to-head with Gareth Bale.
Of course, the points at stake are of fare more significance in the grand scheme of things, especially to Tottenham, who are in pole position for a top-four finish, but it is impossible not to view this game as a battle between the Premier League’s two in-form players, and undoubtedly the top two performers over the whole campaign.
Never mind what the naked eye tells you, the statistics for both players are mind-blowing.
Bale has scored 16 Premier League goals, the first Welshman to do so (although readers who acknowledge that football began before 1992 might recall a certain skinny fella with a moustache use to do that for Liverpool every year) to go with his nine strikes in the cups and for Wales.
With 11 goals in his last nine games for club and country he is in the form of his life, even if comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi need to be shelved for the time being.
But whatever Bale has done, for me, Suarez has been even better.
The Uruguayan is not everybody’s cup of tea (understatement of the year, right there) but in carrying Liverpool for the course of the season he has surely been the Premier League’s outstanding individual.
The former Ajax man has 28 goals in all competitions, is currently sat at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts with 21 strikes and has been sensational in a team that has struggled throughout the campaign.
That he has more assists, more key passes, a better goals-to-minute ratio and more tackles than Bale may well count for nothing as people will be reluctant to vote for him given his past misdemeanours, but with 15 goals in his last 15 games for Liverpool, that, as with anything else, is unlikely to bother him.
Whatever the outcome of that contest, both players have been a marvel to watch this season and believe it or not, there will actually be another 20 players on the pitch come Sunday.
This is a match that leaves me in a quandary with regards to the prices: for reasons I will outline shortly, Liverpool will probably not have a better chance of breaking their duck and getting a win against one of the top six clubs.
But if you think I am backing them at 83/100 to beat a Tottenham team that haven’t lost a Premier League match in 12, then you are crazier than that price.
The draw is 14/5, the same price as a Spurs win, and I can’t believe you can get that type of price for a team that are considerably more accomplished than their hosts, who trail in their wake by four places and 12 points.
The main reason I suggest that Liverpool will not have a better chance of claiming a first victory over a top-six side this year is that Tottenham’s hectic schedule will surely catch up with them soon.
Since spanking Wigan Athletic 4-0 on Saturday, the Reds have had their feet up, while Tottenham have endured an emotionally draining north London derby against Arsenal and a Thursday night engagement with Inter Milan in the Europa League.
The impressive triumph over the Nerazzurri aside, there is no doubting either that Spurs’ previous three wins over Lyon, West Ham and Arsenal were, to varying degrees, slightly fortunate, and with just two clean sheets in their last eight games, Andre Villas-Boas’ side are there to be attacked.
However, the bottom line is that I just cannot have Liverpool at that price.
I have had my fingers burned backing Liverpool at home at odds-on just when I thought they had fully turned the corner, but as losses to Aston Villa and West Brom show – not to mention cup defeats to Swansea City and Oldham Athletic – the Reds are not yet a side you can trust at short odds, and not against a team as talented as Spurs.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have won three games on the trot, and I am not sure they are good enough to win four. Their only win against a side in the top half came against a Swansea side that rested half their team ahead of the Capital One Cup final.
And what’s more, the Reds have been vulnerable all season to the counter-attack – the one thing that Tottenham excel at with all the pace in their side.
So my play is going to be the 91/100 on Tottenham with a goal start. I think that is a great price for a side that have lost just two of their last 22 games in all competitions, winning 15 of them, and have lost just one of their last 16 league matches.
Tottenham’s recent record against Liverpool bodes well for the bet, too. Spurs have beat Liverpool in seven of the last 11 meetings, losing just twice, with Tottenham unbeaten in the last six, keeping four clean sheets.
That, as much as anything else, proves Spurs’ superiority, and to get a better price on the Londoners to avoid defeat than a Liverpool win is borderline ridiculous.
Spurs are 7/4 to win in the draw no bet market, which is also far too big, but the 91/100 is good enough for me and I’ll be steaming into it.