Liverpool are set to welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield this weekend for a clash of huge significance for both sides. Jurgen Klopp will be acutely aware that this represents his side’s biggest challenge from their remaining fixtures, on paper at least, and that could well play into Mauricio Pochettino’s hands.
Spurs arrive on Merseyside with their own set of pressures after a four match run without a win saw their title ambitions go up in flames, leaving them in a precarious position with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea breathing down their necks for a place in the top-four.
It’s a fixture which promises to entertain given the magnitude of the occasion and the quality of talent on display, so let’s take a look at some of the factors which could influence the result today and predict the starting line-ups…
There is no way of sugarcoating this one for Tottenham supporters: the form books suggest a home win is on the cards.
Spurs have not won at Anfield since 2011 on a day when Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric were both on the scoresheet. In fact, they have only recorded two wins at Anfield since the Premier League’s inception, and Liverpool’s home form is hardly symptomatic of a side who are likely to lose this weekend. But, of course, that’s what’s so fascinating about historical trends: anomalies are inevitable.
The visitors might take some encouragement from their previous visit last season when they snatched a last-gap equaliser courtesy of a Harry Kane penalty. Had the England talisman netted from the spot just a few minutes before Mo Salah scored what had looked like a winning goal, Spurs could have recorded a deserved victory on Liverpool’s home turf.
The battle between two former Newcastle United midfielders is a compelling one. Both players have been scrutinised with vehement criticism for significant portions of their careers since moving away from Tyneside, but now find themselves as vital cogs in well-oiled machines.
Sissoko has clearly been replaced this season by an identical impostor, who has gallivanted around and bossed Premier League games in a selfless act to resurrect the reputation of a crestfallen figure devoid of popularity and respect.
Wijnaldum’s rise to popularity amongst the Anfield faithful has been a steadier and smoother process, and his perpetual improvement has enabled him to become a regular in Klopp’s midfield trio.
Statistically speaking, there is almost nothing to prise these two men apart. Neither are particularly decisive in the final-third, as their collective return of just four goal contributions this season serves to illuminate, but it is their all-round ability to dominate the central area which makes them vital first-team regulars.
Sissoko, who has made 22 league starts this season compared to Wijnaldum’s 26, has made two more tackles and one more successful dribble than his opposite number, while they have completed an identical number of key passes.
Their similarity could make for a fascinating midfield battle.
Martin Atkinson, 47, takes charge of our Fixture in Focus on Sunday. The history books may well suggest that Liverpool are favourites to come away with three points, but an away win bias of 39% is an intriguing statistic to note.
While John Moss boldly awarded two penalties to Tottenham in last season’s clash, Atkinson’s reluctance to point to the spot hints that no such repeat is looming on the horizon.
With a return of just 0.22 penalties per game, the 47-year-old is the fifth most penalty-shy referee in the division.
Liverpool are sweating over the fitness of Trent Alexander-Arnold ahead of the game. Klopp has a strong squad of players to chose from but with Joe Gomez also sidelined he could have a real problem if Alexander-Arnold fails to prove his fitness in time for the clash. Naturally, he will fill the right-back berth if he is ready.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been a secret weapon for the Reds in big games this season, is also a doubt after being forced to withdraw from international duty.
Aside from a few minor issues, Liverpool should have an incredibly strong team out this afternoon. Club captain Jordan Henderson in for Adam Lallana is the only predicted change from the 2-1 victory over Fulham prior to the international break.
Harry Winks has failed to recover from a hip injury in time for the game and that will leave Pochettino with a midfield conundrum to resolve. A bold solution may well be to start with a back-five, after fielding a diamond midfield in the defeat to Southampton, especially considering Eric Dier is ruled out having picked up a fresh injury problem on international duty.
Tottenham’s reliance on Harry Kane has continued since he returned to the fold, with his presence apparently stifling Son Heung-min, who could start alongside the club’s talisman in a frightening front-two.