Liverpool host Tottenham this weekend in what promises to be a tactically rich, engaging encounter and one that is a must-win for both sides – the former will likely be under pressure to regain their place at the top after Manchester City play Fulham while the latter could be fighting to remain in the top four depending on other results.
The form charts show that Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been steadily descending towards this game, while Jurgen Klopp’s have undoubtedly been in ascent – the Reds haven’t lost since 3rd January, whereas Spurs haven’t won in the league since early February.
Both heavyweights, though, have progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals – of which half the clubs are English – and that is a fairer reflection of how they have performing this season. Form goes out the window in these kind of games and anything can happen.
This week’s experts, Football FanCast’s very own Spurs fan Harry Sherlock and Football League World assistant editor and Liverpool apologist George Dagless, offer their predictions ahead of the colossal Sunday clash…
Spurs dominated possession but couldn’t break Liverpool down when the two sides met in September, do you think this game will go the same way?
Harry: “Liverpool are very good at breaking out at speed but so are Spurs. It’d be canny for Pochettino’s team to cede the ball to the Reds and attempt to flip the script. If they don’t, they face running into Virgil van Dijk repeatedly.”
George: “I think it’ll be completely different to be honest. Liverpool are at home, and the onus is on them to go and win the game and get Spurs under pressure. Liverpool have shown they are capable of playing a controlled possession game this year more than ever under Klopp and I think we’ll see patient probing rather than counter-attacking football from the Reds.”
When the Reds travelled south to Wembley Stadium in September, Spurs had 61% of the ball but only registered 3 shots on target while their visitors managed 10 – possession was certainly not nine-tenths of the law in this case.
However, as George says, Klopp has got his team playing well when they do have the share of possession and Spurs should be more wary approaching the fortress that is Anfield. The Lilywhites have shown that they can play on the break, too – the Chelsea win in November is a prime example – so this game could be the reverse of the league clash earlier in the season. Will the result go in Spurs’ favour, then?
Where do you think the key battles will take place?
George: “Van Dijk vs Harry Kane will be fun to watch and Kane may look to play off of the other centre-half rather than go to the Dutchman.
“Meanwhile, I think Spurs’ central midfield area has lost some mobility and the pressing and work rate that the Reds’ midfield will demonstrate could well overwhelm them. How is Kieran Trippier going to deal with Sadio Mane who is on fire too?”
Harry: “The key battle is obviously Kane vs van Dijk. They are both world-class operators in vital positions on the pitch. If Kane can get the better of van Dijk, Spurs have a genuine chance of a first win at Anfield since 2011.
“If it’s the opposite, Liverpool will be confident. At the other end, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will have to be at their very best to stop the rampaging threats of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane.”
Van Dijk has been colossal at the heart of defence and is surely frontrunner for the PFA Player of the Year Award – he has totally transformed the Liverpool back-four and has more than justified the extraordinary fee he commanded when the Reds prised the Dutchman from Southampton’s clutches last January.
Kane, meanwhile, has long since shaken off that ridiculous ‘one-season wonder’ tag and is one of the best strikers in the world. Given half a yard, the England captain will punish you so it is crucial that both he and van Dijk are on top form if either side are to stand their best chance of emerging victorious.
Of course, Liverpool have their own jewel in the attacking crown and it’s not Mohamed Salah this time around; Mane has been sensational in 2019 and has netted 11 goals in his last 10 games in all competitions. He could cause Trippier all sorts of problems.
What does van Dijk have to do to win the battle with Kane, then?
Harry: “Cut off the supply lines. If Kane can’t get on the ball, he can’t hurt Liverpool. It really is that simple. But it’s easier said than done. Kane is exceptional at dragging defenders into cul-de-sacs. Van Dijk needs to stay disciplined and ensure he doesn’t shadow Kane’s every step – if he does, he could leave a gap for Spurs to exploit.”
George: “I’m sure Virgil knows exactly what he’s doing without my advice! To be honest, I think he and Joel Matip – who will likely start – will just need to communicate effectively. I’d imagine the Dutchman will almost have to look after Kane by instructing Matip as the striker will likely look to test the former Schalke man more than go for the Reds’ number 4.”
Joe Gomez’s injury has been a huge loss to Liverpool – the centre-back fractured his leg in December and has just returned to training – and it has meant that Matip has had to deputise alongside van Dijk, who, on his best days, could probably do it all by himself in all fairness.
Kane will surely fancy himself much more against the Cameroonian than his centre-back partner and van Dijk, as Harry says, will have to be careful that he isn’t dragged towards the Spurs number 9. If cutting off Kane’s supply is the key, then Fabinho will also be essential – the Brazilian has been exceptional in recent weeks and will be a big presence for the Reds.
If you’re Mauricio Pochettino, do you start Heung-min Son or Lucas Moura this weekend – or both?
George: “I’d start Son but not Lucas. Son is a cracking player and he has the ability to cause real issues with the spaces he finds himself in. Can the Reds pick him up whilst also dealing with Spurs’ other attacking threats?
“Moura, meanwhile, is obviously attack-minded and I don’t think Pochettino will want to sacrifice shape and balance by playing too many offensive players.”
Harry: “Neither. Son hasn’t played well when paired with Kane since his return from injury while Lucas is something of a streaky player. He hasn’t been in any type of form recently.
“Playing Kane up top, with Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko behind him would bamboozle Liverpool.”
Former PSG man Lucas’s heroics at the start of the season fully compensated for the absence of Kane through injury – the winger netted three goals in the first three league games but hasn’t struck since, epitomising what Harry describes as a ‘streaky player’. The 26-year-old was particularly apathetic against Southampton and it’s likely that Pochettino will feel it necessary to bench him this time around.
As George says, the Spurs boss is all about organisation and Son is far more disciplined than his Brazilian opposite number. Even he – the Lilywhites’ clutch player in many games – though, hasn’t been quite up to scratch since recovering from injury and perhaps, as Harry suggests, a completely different approach is required.
Finally, what are your score predictions?
Harry: “After last season’s dramatic, pulsating 2-2 draw, I’m hoping for a better game this time around. I’ll go 4-4.”
George: “Liverpool have to win and I think they’ll edge it. 2-1.”