TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR are a very decent side. Our encounter with them on Sunday is the 22nd match we have played since they beat us 4-1 at their temporary home of Wembley Stadium back in October. There’s been an ocean flow under a bridge since then.
Spurs arrive to complete the book-ending of the middle third of our season. They jolted us into life all of those 22 games ago and they will be interested to see how we’ve grown up.
Our paths diverged over those ensuing three months. Not only had Tottenham’s Autumn beating of Liverpool been emphatic but so too was the lead they were opening up over the Reds and others. Spurs were every pundit’s second-best team in the country. Back then.
Liverpool and Spurs have played 21 and 22 games each, respectively, since last meeting. Liverpool won 14 of their matches and lost just two. Tottenham won 12 and lost five. If we convert these results all into points then Liverpool gained 75 per cent of the points available, whilst Spurs took 62 per cent. It’s a decent-sized gap. Manchester City have taken 86 per cent of the ‘points’ on offer, by this measure. Liverpool are closer to City than Spurs are to Liverpool. Since Sunday October 22 at any rate.
Tottenham are dangerous opponents but Liverpool must have the confidence that they are the better side. Last season, Liverpool were particularly peerless against their peers. We finished top of that theoretical top six table. That fearlessness appeared to be dissipating this campaign with drubbings at the hands of City and Spurs, and awkward home draws with Man United and Chelsea. Only in tearing Arsenal a new one, early in the season, were Liverpool anything like the team that so dominated the top sides in 2016-2017.
Then Manchester City at Anfield on January 14 happened. The game finished 4-3, but the manner in which red marauders had swept to a 4-1 lead inside an hour, rocked the European game back on its haunches. City are England’s best team, and so dominant that they will want to make a claim for being the continent’s best side. They hadn’t been beaten all season. Until they faced Jürgen Klopp’s blooming Reds.
Spurs will have been made to watch the reel of that game back. Maybe a few times over. It might have given them nightmares, or it might have forewarned and forearmed them.
Tottenham warmed up for Sunday’s game by comfortably beating a palid Man United. They would have expected a test but been shocked by the away side’s supine acceptance of their fate.
This was no kind of preparation for Anfield.
Klopp revealed in Friday’s press conference that Adam Lallana is back in training. The manager won’t want to risk starting him given his propensity to injury this season and his fractured rehabilitation from his last major absence, but having him to call on from the bench will give confidence to others. That’s what good options do.
Klopp eschewed the transfer market in January feeling it over-priced, even by recent standards, but in doing so heaped pressure on himself, and in turn those who he will ask to step up as this interesting season enters a potentially exciting phase.
Young Dom Solanke and not-old Danny Ings will fight for a place on Klopp’s bench and look to have an opportunity to show the boss that he may be freer to rotate his attack further down the line than he might have thought. If fit, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah will invariably always play, but if Liverpool are still in contention in the Premier and Champions Leagues come April then they will need to cope without at least one of them for some key games.
Tottenham’s squad looks richer than Liverpool’s at the moment but Sunday will be an opportunity to see where the balance of quality, if not quantity, lies. I like all of Spurs’ attacking players, but I’m not sure I’d take any of them over our main lads. And that includes that free-scoring big galoot they play up front.
Will this be a battle won in midfield? It’s hard enough to call exactly what the composition of the two midfields will be, let alone the outcome of the contest.
For Liverpool, the captain, Jordan Henderson, so exceptional in midweek, surely keeps his place. Emre Can was also good at Huddersfield, scoring and making chances, and will fancy his chances of starting. There is no great pressure on Klopp to freshen legs for Sunday, given the five-day break since the midweek fixture, so he may be tempted to settle on something of a near unchanged side.
The one big exception, of course, should apply to Virgil Van Dijk. He was rested on Tuesday night, and he will have been readying himself for a battle with Kane and the gang all week.
Losing doesn’t bear thinking about. Winning doesn’t bear thinking about.
I’m taking a draw because it keeps us in the box seat, but that’s not because I don’t think we can win. We’re better than Tottenham. Probably not by as much as the results of the last three months might suggest, but stronger nonetheless. I’d love us to prove it and take the three points that will far from secure our Champions League qualification, but will put us entirely in control of the ensuing battle for it.
Predicted 11: Karius; Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Roberston; Henderson, Can, Chamberlain; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Kick off: Sunday 4.30pm
Referee: Jon Moss
Odds in association with RedsBet: Liverpool 23-20, Draw 49-20, Spurs 12-5.