Liverpool’s perfect start to the season came to an end against Manchester United last weekend, so the Premier League leaders will be looking to get back to winning ways when Tottenham visit Anfield on Sunday.
The encounter is more than just about remaining unbeaten for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side will know any dropped points from now until the end of the season will give Manchester City an opportunity to catch them. With that in mind, they will show no mercy against Spurs.
Meanwhile, Tottenham are searching for their first away win of the season, and there isn’t really a more difficult place to go in search of that elusive victory. Tuesday’s 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League saw some confidence return, but they are in for a difficult afternoon up north.
So what exactly do we think will happen at Anfield on Sunday? Here are five predictions.
1. Spurs to go with a defensive approach
Recent results have forced Mauricio Pochettino into constantly changing his shape in pursuit of some stability, particularly in defence. A back three didn’t work against Watford last weekend, so Pochettino switched to a back four against Red Star and had some success, albeit against inferior opposition.
Regardless of that success, there is a good chance Spurs will revert to a back three against Liverpool. In fact, it could look more like a back five as the visitors aim to close as many gaps as possible to prevent the hosts’ ruthless front three from wreaking havoc.
There are only so many more heavy defeats Tottenham can take this term, and Pochettino will surely know that. Despite the side finding some semblance of slickness in attack against Red Star, they may have no choice but to swallow their pride and focus on keeping Liverpool out this weekend.
2. Both sides will be passive in midfield
The above is a roundabout way of saying this game will be won in each team’s final third rather than in midfield. Firstly, if Spurs do deploy a back three then Harry Winks is unlikely to play; his presence as a holding midfielder may not be required with three centre-backs.
In that case, Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele will both start as they did in midweek. And while that will give Tottenham plenty of power in midfield, they will lack Winks’ ability to receive the ball and control possession.
Even if Winks does play, Liverpool have the capacity to break the lines quickly, essentially taking the England international out of the game. That said, Liverpool themselves have struggled to find balance in midfield of late. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both impressed against Genk on Wednesday but the Reds still failed to fully control the midfield battle.
All of which is to say that both sides will often bypass the opposition midfield on Sunday, with Liverpool attempting to get the ball into their front three quickly and Spurs looking to prosper from counter-attacks.
3. Sadio Mane will score
If Liverpool do manage to get the ball into their front three quickly, they could have plenty of luck in the final third. Sadio Mane is in exceptional form and is bound to find the net if Spurs do not properly plug the holes he frequently exploits.
Whether Pochettino goes with a back three or back four, Mane will primarily be attacking the space in between Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld. Both players have been suspect defensively this season – one more surprisingly than the other – and will have a hard time tracking Mane’s runs if the winger is in the mood.
Mohamed Salah could have some luck on the other side, too, with Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose both currently performing below their usual standards. Pochettino will perhaps prefer Ben Davies at left-back, who is considered by some to be a safer pair of hands than Rose.
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4. Harry Kane will draw a blank
One of Harry Kane’s best goals for Tottenham came against Southampton in December 2015. The striker powered past two Saints defenders – including Virgil van Dijk – with ease before placing the ball into the bottom corner. Since then, it’s as if Van Dijk has been on a mission to prove that was a one-off.
Not many forwards are able to get past Van Dijk, but his true quality lies in his ability to stop the very best, including Kane. Spurs’ talisman has struggled against the imperious Dutchman in recent contests, including the Champions League final – though it’s worth noting Kane wasn’t fully fit in Madrid.
To ensure Kane isn’t constantly bettered by Van Dijk, Pochettino might ask his stand-in captain to drop slightly deeper, as he did to great effect for England against Bulgaria last week and for Tottenham against Red Star on Tuesday. That way, he will be able to turn on the ball, look up and play a creative role.
Kane’s creativity will come in particularly useful is Spurs choose to play on the counter. Indeed, Van Dijk may find himself matched up with Heung-Min Son rather than a deeper-lying Kane.
5. Liverpool will win with a clean sheet
Kane and Son were irresistible in midweek, but playing Liverpool at Anfield is a different proposition altogether. And with Alisson fit and back between the sticks, Tottenham’s chances of snatching a goal look even slimmer than before.
Alisson was beaten twice in three meetings with Spurs last season. Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura scored in a pair of 2-1 defeats in the Premier League, while Liverpool kept out their opponents in the Champions League final to secure European glory.
While Tottenham will have gained some confidence against Red Star, their problems are not suddenly going to disappear when they travel to a side 13 points clear of them after just nine games. Anything but a Liverpool victory would be a surprise, and a clean sheet could provide the cherry on top.