AHEAD of Liverpool’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield, we spoke to Spurs blogger CHRIS MILLER to get the latest on the Reds’ upcoming opponents.
Firstly, Spurs come into this game having not lost since early December, what have you made of the team’s performances?
Well it took a while for us to click for various reasons, but then most of our injured players came back, we had a settled team, and we tweaked the formation. We really kicked on over the Christmas period and were playing consistently. The concern is that the injuries have crept back in and we now have Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen –- two of this season’s best performers – out at once, and Erik Lamela has still not recovered either.
Tottenham have lost just twice all season, what do you think has been the key to the team’s form?
We’ve got a fantastic defence and just magnificent protection in front of them too. Victor Wanyama has been an unexpected gem this season, playing pretty consistently right from the off, but putting in a particularly Herculean effort away at Manchester City. He’s become a real favourite. Mousa Dembele has had some strong performances too (though not quite at last season’s levels yet), and over that Christmas period we really clicked up front too, with Dele (he’s dropped the Alli for personal reasons) and Christian Eriksen starting to find form. The full-backs have been the stars for large periods of the season, though – the best in the country, and arguably in Europe.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have drawn their last two away games, against City and Sunderland, is that a worry in particular heading into Saturday’s clash?
The City match is probably more relevant than Sunderland; it was one of our worst performances of the season, so a draw felt like a win in many ways. City pressed high – much like I expect Liverpool will do – and it had a huge impact on our ability to play out and to control possession. Whether Liverpool will be as bold as City were (they pretty much had just Yaya Toure holding the midfield together), I don’t know, but I can see the front three performing a similar function.
One of the issues at Liverpool currently is their lack of depth, which has been exposed in recent weeks. Spurs similarly aren’t blessed with many experienced options outside of the first 11, is that something you can see becoming a problem?
I mean, yes, it’s definitely an issue, but it’s also worth saying that we’ve had injuries across the season and still done well. Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane were out for periods at the start, Lamela’s had a totally disrupted season, Dembele had a suspension and then injury, and now we’ve lost Vertonghen and Rose.
We aren’t blessed with tremendous back-ups for each first choice player, but the versatility of both Son Heung-min and Eric Dier has been hugely helpful, and Harry Winks has looked like an able deputy when called upon in midfield.
What sort of effect do you think the imminent Europa League fixtures will have on Tottenham’s season?
We’ve got an interesting period coming up where we play Europa League, FA Cup fifth round, Europa League – we’ll get a good idea from that what Pochettino’s priorities are.
I think the Europa League will have an impact, but particularly if we don’t win the matches. I felt that our Champions League defeats earlier in the season knocked the stuffing out from us a little. Our only two league defeats have both come after Champions League matches, plus we drew 0-0 at Bournemouth after playing away at Leverkusen.
As the closest pursuers of league leaders Chelsea do you think Spurs are still in with a chance of catching Antonio Conte’s side?
Chelsea look incredibly strong and unlikely to drop enough points, plus I think it will be very difficult for us to maintain consistency for the rest of the season, and so I’m not getting overly excited. I just enjoy each game because our luck (and form) could change any time. And we’re so much fun to watch.
As you mentioned, Spurs are set to be without Rose and Vertonghen for their trip to Anfield, how big a blow will their absence be?
Rose in particularly is a massive loss – Ben Davies is a decent defender, but essentially it means we have to revert back to a back four, because Davies cannot play as a wing-back: he’s just too conservative. So we’ll likely have Kyle Walker, Dier, Alderweireld and Davies across the back, which is solid enough. But it does limit our attacking game somewhat, and changes the system to the extent where we’re playing this slightly lopsided 4-2-3-1, with Son high up on the left, Walker higher than Davies on the right and with Eriksen narrow, cutting in to create.
Finally, how do you expect Saturday’s game to pan out?
This is one of the only matches of the season in which none of the possible results would surprise me. But I’ll go 1-1 because, in many ways, I think it would suit both teams.