Sports Mole looks ahead to Saturday’s mouth-watering Premier League showdown between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, including team news, predicted XIs and a full preview.
The Premier League returns in style after the international break, with the opening match of gameweek five pitting two top-four hopefuls against each other as Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at Wembley.
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has had to contend with more than most during the embryonic stages of the Premier League season.
Spurs became the first top-flight team to fail to make a single signing in a summer transfer window, had more players than any other club return late after reaching the final week of the World Cup and then saw the move to a new stadium – for which this was meant to be the opening match – further delayed.
Pochettino certainly did not need his goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris to shine further negative attention on the club with a drink-driving charge which he has since admitted, then, although he has refused to strip the World Cup winner of the captain’s armband.
All of that has made for a disrupted buildup to this mouth-watering fixture, and the defeat to Watford only heightens the pressure on Spurs to perform when Liverpool visit Wembley – not the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – on Saturday lunchtime.
Both Tottenham and Watford went into their match at Vicarage Road with 100% records, but Pochettino’s side were out of sorts and saw their own perfect start come to an end just six days after making a statement of intent by beating Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Spurs will be hoping that they can take more from the United win than the Watford defeat, and if the Londoners are able to consistently perform in the biggest games then they will eliminate what has been one of their major weaknesses in past seasons.
Tottenham’s record against Liverpool has not been good in recent years, although they ran out convincing winners in this fixture last season and a similar performance against the league leaders on Saturday would suggest that the Watford defeat was merely a blip, rather than the first sign of an unenviable trait which has dogged Spurs in the past.
It is important not to overreact at this early stage of the season, though, and considering the issues Pochettino has had to deal with so far this term, nine points from four games is by no means a bad return – indeed, victory on Saturday would equal their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign.
The domestic fixtures after this weekend look kind too, with Tottenham’s next four Premier League games coming against teams that have amassed just one win between them so far this season.
However, they must also contend with a difficult Champions League group which has pitted them against Inter Milan, Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven in that time, as well as facing their conquerors Watford once again in the EFL Cup.
Sticking at Wembley for a while longer may not prove to be a bad thing either; Spurs have won eight of their last nine league games at the stadium, with champions Manchester City the only visiting team to have emerged victorious in that time.
On current form Liverpool look like a team capable of matching City’s feat, though, and should that be the case then Spurs would fall to successive Premier League losses for the first time since May 2016.
Recent Premier League form: WWWL
Liverpool may have won 18 top-flight titles and five European Cups during their illustrious history, but they have only begun a top-flight campaign with five successive victories on two previous occasions.
The class of 2018-19 has the chance to emulate the teams from 1978-79 and 1990-91 this weekend, and doing so would be their biggest statement yet that they are ready to add a first Premier League crown to that trophy haul.
Of course, there is still a long way to go – and the sizeable obstacle of Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City to overcome – before that long-held dream becomes a reality, but the early signs indicate that they could live up to the pre-season hype.
The Reds are already enjoying their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign courtesy of four wins from four, going into the international break top of the table alongside fellow 100%ers Chelsea and Watford.
Perversely, it is the unconvincing nature of some of those wins which have increased belief that they could launch a genuine title challenge this season, with Liverpool withstanding heavy pressure against Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City but still coming away with all three points.
Winning ugly has been an attribute missing from recent Liverpool teams, and the ability to do so now is built on a much sturdier defence which has conceded a league-low one goal from their opening four matches.
That solitary goal is one that Jurgen Klopp will hope is never repeated too, with Alisson Becker being given a sharp and early reality check as to the perils of being too confident in possession when he was tackled against Leicester and subsequently punished.
It brought an end to the Brazilian’s unblemished start at Anfield, but to a certain extent he got away with it as Liverpool still held on to beat Leicester, while Alisson learned a valuable lesson which should only help him to improve.
One area the whole team need to improve on from last season is their record in exactly these types of games; Klopp’s side picked up just one point from the 15 on offer in away matches against top-six opponents, conceding 15 goals in those five games too.
That record includes a 4-1 drubbing by Spurs here at Wembley, where Liverpool were swept aside en route to a fourth successive defeat at the stadium, although that chastening thumping acted as the catalyst for an 18-match unbeaten streak.
Saturday brings the opportunity for revenge, redemption and reassurance for the Reds, then, as they look to make it six Premier League wins on the bounce for the first time since their club-record run of 11 under Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14.
Liverpool will need as much momentum as they can muster heading into a daunting run of seven fixtures in the space of 23 days, including meetings with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, Chelsea (twice) and Manchester City.
Recent Premier League form: WWWW
Spurs will be without skipper Lloris due to a thigh injury, while Dele Alli has also been ruled out of the game after picking up a hamstring strain on international duty.
Questions were raised over Harry Kane‘s fitness during the international break too, but Pochettino has insisted that the World Cup Golden Boot winner is at 100% and he will lead the line this weekend as he bids to become only the third player to score in five successive Premier League home games for Spurs.
Lucas Moura has joined Kane in attack so far this season and is the club’s top scorer in 2018-19, but the return of Son Heung-min after a victorious Asian Games campaign could see the Brazilian drop into a slightly deeper role.
Klopp has made just one change to his starting lineup so far this season and, while more changes will be expected throughout the upcoming run of tough games, he is unlikely to tinker too much with a winning formula just yet.
Fabinho will once again be forced to wait for his debut, but fellow summer arrival Naby Keita could return to the starting lineup in place of either Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson or James Milner.
Tottenham possible starting lineup:
Vorm; Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Dembele; Trippier, Eriksen, Lucas, Davies; Kane, Son
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Keita, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Head To Head
One thing this fixture promises in abundance is goals; there have been 149 scored in matches between these two sides during the Premier League era – second only to Arsenal vs. Everton (151) in the division’s history.
Liverpool’s 4-1 defeat in the corresponding fixture last season is their only loss in the last 12 meetings, during which time they have won seven and scored 27 goals.
Indeed, the only time Liverpool have failed to find the back of the net in the last 13 editions of this contest was a goalless draw in Klopp’s first match at the helm in October 2015.
We say: Tottenham 2-2 Liverpool
This should be an open and entertaining match, and even predicting four goals seems a little reserved. Liverpool have not been at their best despite their 100% start to the season and it remains to be seen how they will fare against top-six opposition, so this could be where their perfect start comes to an end.