The Premier League returns with a bang this weekend as Liverpool travel to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur. These two sides are incredibly evenly matched on paper, in terms of both talent in the starting XI and style of play, so it should be a thrilling encounter.
But it’s also a game that will serve as a measuring stick of where both teams are at right now. Tottenham need to bounce back from a surprise defeat to Watford, whereas Liverpool are amid a four-game winning run but yet to face an opponent of Spurs’ calibre.
Our match preview covers everything you need to know before the 12.30pm kickoff, ranging from team news and historic records to how the referee could influence the match.
Liverpool boast a pretty strong record against Tottenham, having claimed nine more victories and scored 27 more goals than the Lilywhites in this Premier League fixture. Most of those wins have come at Anfield but their win rate in North London isn’t too bad either, with more than a quarter of their 26 visits to date resulting in all three points.
But the recent record between the two clubs is a lot more even; after Liverpool won all five meetings between 2013 and the first half of 2015, four of the last six have ended in draws, starting with Jurgen Klopp’s first match in charge of the Reds – a scoreless encounter at White Hart Lane. In good news for the neutrals though, there have only been six nil-nils between both clubs in the Premier League, and this is actually the second-highest scoring fixture in the competition’s history.
Mauricio Pochettino’s record against the Premier League’s managerial elite isn’t the strongest – from 43 career encounters with Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery he’s won just nine times and only Arsenal have taken less points from Big Six opponents since the Argentine was appointed at the start of the 2014/15 season.
But that only makes Tottenham’s 4-1 win over Liverpool last season seem more significant and to some extent, the Spurs boss seems to have Klopp’s number. From their seven meetings to date, there have been four draws and both managers have overseen the same number of goals. Just one win and one clean sheet separates them. In this fixture last season, Pochettino used 3-5-2 to great effect – considering how much Liverpool strengthened over the summer, it’s now a question of whether he can come up with an inspired tactical setup once again.
Michael Oliver has become the Premier League’s go-to referee for big games and he certainly likes to stamp his authority on the match. Only one referee awarded more fouls per game and issued more red cards per game than the 33-year-old last season, while he also ranked in the top seven from the 21 referees to work in the Premier League for fouls per tackle and penalties per game.
But the real headline statistic here is Oliver’s lowly home win bias. Of course, there’s always a higher potential for away wins in games involving the big sides but even so, less than a third of the matches Oliver oversaw last season resulted in home victories. Perhaps that’s just a coincidence, but perhaps Oliver has a subconscious commitment to ensuring he doesn’t appear too partisan to the home crowd – inadvertently swinging too far the other way.
The big news for Tottenham is that Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris won’t be available for Saturday’s clash due to injury. Michel Vorm therefore automatically gets the nod between the sticks as the Spurs skipper’s understudy, but Alli’s absence could result in a slight restructuring of the team that lost to Watford last time out – and that shock defeat might well have convinced Pochettino to make changes to his starting XI anyway.
Spurs fielded a 3-5-2 at Vicarage Road but we’re anticipating more of a 3-4-3, with Christian Eriksen moving a little further forward to flank Harry Kane alongside this season’s in-form player Lucas Moura. That sees Eric Dier come into the team to provide some extra sturdiness in midfield – Mousa Dembele has looked lost holding the engine room on his own recently – and Danny Rose could come in for Ben Davies as well. While the Welshman appears to be first-choice at the moment, it was the England man Pochettino turned to for the 3-0 win at Old Trafford earlier this term.
Klopp, meanwhile, will understandably be reluctant to make changes following Liverpool’s perfect start to the season which has seen them take maximum points and concede just one goal. The defence and the front three picks itself at the moment, leaving the midfield as the only real point of contention simply due to the sheer number of options at Klopp’s disposal, ranging from summer signing Fabinho to tried and trusted veteran James Milner.
Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum’s form this season has been so strong that neither seem likely to drop out of the side, so the only remaining question is who takes the final slot in the middle of the park. Having started on the bench against Leicester City last time out, we reckon summer signing Naby Keita – who Transfermarkt value at £58.5million – will come back into the team. In an open game on a large Wembley pitch, his offensive energy could be decisive.