Liverpool prepare for their toughest test yet in the early kick-off on Saturday as they visit Spurs who would be looking to bounce back after losing their 100% record in a languid display at Vicarage Road a fortnight ago. Last season’s repeat of this fixture saw Spurs fly out of the blocks to take a 3-1 half-time lead, taking the lead after exploiting two errors from Dejan Lovren before going on to record a fine 4-1 victory.
One year on, the vast divergence in Liverpool’s defensive displays pre-van Dijk and post-van Dijk suggests that last year’s scoreline is unlikely to be repeated. But Liverpool may find themselves on the back-foot for extended periods of the game, allowing us to examine how the Reds back-line cope in their first real stress-test of the 2018/19 campaign. Tottenham would be looking to revive the type of high intensity, incisive football that has seen them score 90 goals in home league games over the last two seasons.
Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris are the main injury doubts in the Spurs squad. Heung-min Son is also available for selection after victory at the Asia Games last month secured his exemption from South Korean military service, though he may be afforded a rest, meaning that any involvement in this game is likely to be limited.
Tactically, Pochettino’s preference is unclear between playing a flat back-four with orthodox full-backs or a back-three with wing-backs providing threat and width. A back-four lends an extra man, usually Eric Dier, to bulk out central areas. On the other hand, the back-three gives freedom to the wing-backs to involve themselves in the attacking phase. Trippier has developed into such a useful attacking outlet on the right flank that fielding a third centre-back to ease his defensive duties is logical. The back-three were preferred last time out and did limit Watford’s attacking threat, despite eventually succumbing to two goals from set-plays.
If Pochettino does opt for a back-three, Liverpool’s aggressive pressing style means that Pochettino must be careful not leave the centre of midfield too exposed, particularly if possession is lost with one of the wing-backs upfield. This may lead to Dier and Dembele being fielded as a more conservative central midfield duo which would probably see Eriksen given a more advanced, creative role and one of Lucas Moura or Alli miss out.
Since being rushed back from an injury picked up at the back-end of last season and despite winning the Golden Boot at the World Cup, Harry Kane has looked a little off the pace in recent months, often dropping deep to involve himself in the build-up phase. He averaged five shots per game last season, which has halved to 2.5 so far this season. Spurs’ fans would hope that Kane benefits from being rested in mid-week.
Predicted line-up: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Dembele, Eriksen, Moura, Kane
After a convincing 4-0 victory on the opening day, Klopp’s men have found it much tougher going in recent weeks. They were below-par in their most recent victory away at Leicester, which was the third game in a row they had won by a single goal.
There are no new injury issues in the squad, but Klopp would be pleased to have Lovren available for selection again, though he may be eased back into contention given how comfortable Joe Gomez has looked in his absence.
Liverpool relies upon starting fast, and they will press hard for the opening half hour of games, hoping to pinch the ball in midfield before setting one of the front-three away. Mo Salah scored all three of Liverpool’s goals against Spurs last season, and there may be space for Salah and fellow attackers Mane and Firmino to exploit behind Spurs advanced wing-backs.
Competition for places is highest in the Liverpool central midfield. Keita dropped to the bench at Leicester where Klopp opted to start with Milner, Wijnaldum and Henderson; a defensive change that was perhaps made out of respect to Leicester who, themselves, are dangerous on the counter. Henderson’s ability to anchor possession is more appropriate in games where Liverpool need to take additional defensive considerations for their opponent and should see him continue his role as the deepest of the midfield three.
It is difficult to see Milner dropped given his excellent form in the opening fixtures of the season. New signing Keita, an effective ball-carrier, could also be recalled; his energy and dynamism would benefit the Liverpool counter and press.
Predicted line-up: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Salah
Watch out for
The battle between Trippier and Robertson. Both would be keen to get forward but must be careful not to allow space for other.
Prediction: Tottenham 1 – 2 Liverpool
Tottenham are expected to control possession for the most parts which may suit Klopp’s side who are now much less error-prone in defence and devastating on the counter. There would be a temptation for Spurs to go after Liverpool in the first half, given their home advantage, but they would be wise to protect against the Red’s high press in the opening half-hour to ensure that Liverpool aren’t able to build a lead. Despite this, Liverpool’s high energy system should be able to exploit the immobility in the Spurs central midfield to get their noses in front.