By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to North London for an early afternoon against top four rivals Tottenham Hotspur. This game will be Jurgen Klopp’s first real test of the season.
An opportunity to show the rest of the league and most importantly Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City of our intentions for this season, but also a chance to seek revenge following last year’s defensive nightmare in which Harry Kane and co. ran Liverpool ragged as they demolished the reds 4-1.
With Liverpool having strengthened their defensive positions since that defeat, this time the game at Wembley should be more evenly contested.
Form going into the game
Liverpool head into this game having gained maximum points from their first four games, the first time a Liverpool side have achieved this feat in the Premier League era. Having scored nine and only conceded one, with the singular goal down to a fault of our own. Liverpool look the most balanced team in the league, quite a turn-around since we last face Tottenham away.
Tottenham have been impressive this season, with a defeat against surprise package Watford being their only blip in what has been a strong start to the league. A fine victory against Manchester United in which Lucas Moura scored a brace on his way to winning the Player of the Month has been the result of the season so far. Following wins against newly promoted Fulham and against a stubborn Newcastle side, in which Pochettino’s side sit in fifth position in the league.
Mauricio Pochettino has used a multitude of formations this season, playing their traditional 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 diamond as well as playing with three at the back twice. This means that Jurgen Klopp and his team will have their work cut out to guess how the opposition will line up. We see how it can go wrong in their game against United, Jose Mourinho tried to match them and play three at the back, a formation they played in their two previous games. Tottenham played the diamond formation with Moura partnering Kane up front which totally ruined the Red Devils’ game plan.
The big team news coming out of the Spurs camp is the omission of Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris through injury (though the latter’s drink-driving charge may have also had something to do with his absence). Mousa Dembélé will start alongside Eric Dier to add some midfield steel behind the creative talents of Christian Eriksen.
I expect them to start with a back three, given how successful it was when they played us last season. Serge Aurier will start at left back offering the chance to deliver some wicked crosses from out wide. Lucas Moura will remain partnered up front with Harry Kane despite the return of Heung-Min Son after his exploits with South Korea at the Asian games.
Despite the presence of strong defenders, Spurs have conceded some sloppy goals this season, only keeping one clean sheet so far. With Liverpool’s forward men yet to hit top form this season, this is the game to hit the performance levels they showed last season. With Tottenham not at their defensive best which has been very strong the past couple of seasons, this will give the Reds a real opportunity to take three points from the North London club.
With Brazil national team boss Tite resting the trio of Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino for Brazil’s game against El Salvador on Wednesday, Jurgen Klopp should have a fully fit squad at his disposal, apart from Dejan Lovren.
For the fifth game in a row the defensive quintet should remain the same ahead of their biggest test of the season. Despite his habit of disappearing in away games I would start Gini Wijnaldum in defensive midfield, given the fact that I think he is a better option than Jordan Henderson. Naby Keita should line-up alongside James Milner after starting on the bench against Leicester City.
Danger man: Lucas Moura
Most people would have Harry Kane as being the biggest threat to Liverpool and rightly so, 105 goals in his past four seasons is the type of numbers we expect to see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo notch in a less-competitive league. I selected Lucas Moura for his exceptional form this season, he has been Tottenham’s best player so far, therefore the biggest threat, having scored three goals in August including a scorcher against Fulham.
Lucas looks to run into space in behind and stretch the defence, thus allowing Harry Kane- who has scored five goals in his past seven games against the reds- more space giving him more time on the ball to really hurt us. He has shown his ability to run with the ball past the defence as shown in his second against United. He is a very different proposition to his striking counterpart Kane. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will have their hands very full if he continues his partnership with the Englishman.
Joe Gomez vs Harry Kane: Once again Joe Gomez will have to prove his worth, despite proving it many times this season. Last time out vs Leicester, he outperformed his partner van Dijk, given the quality and consistency of the Dutchman that would be something that comes along not very often and would have done the England international the world of good before his biggest test of the season. Given how inexperienced Joe Gomez is Harry Kane will naturally be attracted to him, trying to use his experience to hustle the young centre back into a mistake.
Joe Gomez will need to have his mind fully on the game. If he is to switch off for even one second, Harry Kane will punish him. With Lucas breaking the lines, he should easily be able to track back alongside him not giving him the time and space that he got at Old Trafford. Pass this test on Saturday and Joe Gomez may well put himself ahead of Dejan Lovren in the pecking order even when the Croatian returns from injury.
Out of form attack vs Out of form defence: Liverpool’s attack, even with scoring seven goals this season have been underwhelming this season. After their late returns following the World Cup, they aren’t yet back to full fitness. After playing a couple of games together, including having a small rest during the international break, our front three should start finding form during our next few fixtures, which happen to be some of the most important this season.
Tottenham usually pride themselves on having the best defence in the league, Jan Vertonghen Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez are thought of as some of the finest defenders in the country, if not the world. This season however they have conceded in games in which they would have kept clean sheets in the past couple of seasons. This may be because of Lucas Moura moving forward which means having a man less in midfield. Or it could be due to a player not wanting to be there, everyone knows about Alderweireld’s contract situation and United’s interest in the Belgian. Whatever the vulnerability is, Liverpool must capitalise.
Gini Wijnaldum vs Inconsistent Form: Gini Wijnaldum is a very good footballer, unstoppable on his day, despite his brilliance we see so often see at Anfield, he goes missing in away games regularly. Yes, he does the simple stuff well but if you are fighting for the league we need more than that from a midfielder. Some of his best games in a Liverpool shirt have come at home against the ‘big six’. Grabbing a couple of goals and assists against Arsenal, Spurs, Man City and Chelsea. If he were to be more consistent and play like he did at home in away games, he would be virtually irreplaceable. Given how the newly added competition of Keita and Fabinho are still getting used to the League, both of whom are expected to be mainstays in midfield for the majority of the season. Gini Wijnaldum will have to majorly up his game away from home to have any decent chance of getting regular game time.
Recent history- Last five games between the clubs (all comps)
PL 27/8/16 Spurs 1-1 Liverpool
League Cup 25/10/16 Liverpool 2-1 Spurs
PL 11/01/2017 Liverpool 2-0 Spurs
PL 22/10/17 Spurs 4-1 Liverpool
PL 01/04/18 Liverpool 2-2 Spurs
Tottenham will look to get back to winning ways in this game after defeat against Watford last time out. A win against Liverpool would put them a point ahead of us in the league and end our 100% record. Victory for the reds will give them breathing space over our North London rivals with a five point lead. With Klopp’s side having very tough fixtures over the coming weeks, we need to get at least 7 points from the next 4 games to keep up with Manchester City who have an easier run of fixtures by their standards.
With both attacks capable of scoring, the defenders from either side will need to be on top of their game to limit the opposition team to as few chances as possible. This will be a very evenly contested match. Naby Keita will be an important player for us providing a link between the midfield and attack.
When I watched Spurs beat United I was thinking that a draw would be a good result. When they showed defensive frailties against Watford I now think we may sneak a win. I’m going for a 2-1 win. Giving us 15 points in the league before we face PSG in the Europe.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur (Kane) 1-2 Liverpool (Mane, Milner)