By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield, as they look to hold their spot at the top of the Premier League, albeit with Manchester City having a game in hand. This game kicks off the final stretch of the season with no more international breaks taking place.
As we are coming closer to the conclusion of what has been a remarkable season for the club, we end with a squad who are more or less at peak fitness, which could be huge if we want to fight both domestically and in Europe.
Before the international break Liverpool won three on the bounce. Against Burnley and Fulham we recovered from both early and late setbacks and showed what all championship winning teams should do and managed to get three points, sandwiched in between what was a tactical masterclass in Germany as the Reds’ won 3-1 against Bayern Munich, sending out a huge statement to the rest of Europe.
In the space of a couple of weeks, a three-way fight for the title became two. Tottenham only managed to pick up a single point and are now sucked into a battle for the top four, of which four teams are separated by only four points. The lack of investment in the summer was always going to catch up with a hard-working team like Tottenham, it was just a matter of when, not if the collapse was going to occur.
As aforementioned, Liverpool jumped over quite a treacherous hurdle before the international break. Our home form against Burnley over the past couple of seasons suggested that we would struggle against Sean Dyche’s determined side. It seemed as though the poor form would continue, as Ashley Westwood put the Clarets ahead directly from a corner despite a clear foul on Alisson in the six-yard box. Liverpool responded by scoring four, dispatching of Burnley who have become somewhat of a bogey team in recent seasons.
Against Bayern Munich, we displayed our most mature and controlled European performance this campaign, not needing to score five in case we conceded four. The performance showed was quite different to those of last season. In the opening stages Bayern seemed to be the team on top, but Liverpool rode out the storm and eventually grew into the game. Sadio Mane scored the important away goal which killed the tie, Joel Matip inadvertently gave the German champions hope, but they failed to build on a gift and never got close to Liverpool’s goal. Two further late goals from Liverpool meant the scoreline reflected a dominant performance from Jurgen Klopp and co.
Tottenham have seen their season fall apart in recent weeks, from a possible 12 points they have only picked up one – with that point being gained against Arsenal. Tottenham were lucky to even get a point thanks to a late penalty miss from the Gunners.
Their three losses in that time came against Burnley, Chelsea and Southampton, all three games showed their defensive frailties and lack of balance in midfield. A midfield four which consists of three attacking minded players is never going to work, and the manager’s decision to constantly change the formation could also be a problem.
Their attack is still getting into dangerous positions but are failing to test the goalkeeper. Against Burnley and Southampton, they registered 16 and 17 shots on goals respectively, yet only 30% of these shots were on target. Against Chelsea they were even worse, failing to have a shot on target throughout the match. If their poor shooting were to continue, they could be in real trouble in the league for the remainder of the season
Jurgen Klopp has a fully fit squad to choose from according to David Maddock of the Mirror. Both Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin are taking part in full training, but due to a lack of match fitness the duo will probably be coming off the bench to regain match sharpness, this is the case especially for Chamberlain who hasn’t played for almost a year. Dejan Lovren returning to action with Croatia means Jurgen Klopp has the fittest squad he has had for the whole season.
Alisson Becker will continue his place in goal, needing only three clean sheets to match the record for most clean sheets at Liverpool in the Premier League, currently held by Pepe Reina. Trent Alexander-Arnold should be passed fit despite having an injury scare which resulted in him being pulled from international duty, on the opposite flank Andy Robertson will start.
Despite Lovren and Gomez recovering from injury, Joel Matip should remain alongside Van Dijk. The Cameroonian has impressed alongside the Dutch captain and it would be unfair to drop a player who has performed his best in a red shirt in recent weeks. Fabinho will sit alongside Gini Wijnaldum in the centre of the park, with a quartet of Adam Lallana, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino starting in attack as they hope to impose damage on a Spurs team hampered by poor form.
Mo Salah has failed to score in his past seven matches, this however doesn’t paint the full picture. Opposition defences are doubling up on him which allows Firmino and Mane more space in dangerous areas. The extra space means in the games which the Egyptian has failed to find the back of the net, Firmino has scored two while Mane has seven. The Senegalese has scored many vital goals over the past couple of weeks and has scored 11 in as many games.
Mauricio Pochettino is without Eric Dier, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier for the game at Anfield due to injury. Meaning the Argentine only has four fit central midfielders to choose from. Hugo Lloris will start in goal, hoping to improve on his recent poor form. The trio of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez will form a back three, marking Liverpool’s front three man for man.
Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier will start in the wing back positions, they will be the ones to add width to this Tottenham team. A double pivot of Sissoko and Wanyama will provide a very physical midfield, yet the duo both possess very little technical ability and are suspect on the ball which could play into Liverpool’s hands.
Christian Eriksen will start just behind a strike partnership of Harry Kane and Son. Kane has found the back of the net twice in three visits to Anfield and has three goals in four games since returning from injury.
Last 5 results
League Cup: (25/10/2016) – Liverpool 2-1 Spurs
Premier League: (11/01/2017) – Liverpool 2-0 Spurs
Premier League: (22/10/2017) – Spurs 4-1 Liverpool
Premier League: (01/04/2018) – Liverpool 2-2 Spurs
Premier League: (15/09/2018) – Spurs 1-2 Liverpool
Despite Tottenham’s poor form in the league, the international break will allow them to regroup for the end of the season. Also, despite picking up a single point from a possible 12 against relatively poor opposition, the London club still has the resources to hurt Liverpool, especially in the attacking department.
Their defence can be one of the best in the world when all are playing well, but they lack consistency and post poor performances far more than players of their quality should. Their midfield is not balanced and offers no protection to the defence which is a reason in why they have recorded nine losses this season.
Manchester City play Fulham on Saturday afternoon and are expected to pick up three points, meaning a win for Liverpool is a necessity especially when our title rivals have a very congested fixture list from now until the end of the season. Tottenham will prove to be difficult and if we to manage to gain three points, it should give us the confidence to go on and win every game remaining.
I’m going for a 3-1 win, our midfield should be far too strong for theirs, and it should be a quite routine victory. Sadio Mane will continue his goalscoring streak at Anfield with a brace, while Salah will hopefully find the back of the net and get that 50-goal burden off his shoulders.
Final Score prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur