Defeat is not an option for either Tottenham or Liverpool on Saturday as both sides’ Barclays Premier League ambitions reach a critical point in the season.
Second-placed Spurs can cut Leicester’s lead at the top of the table to two points before the Foxes play Southampton on Sunday, while Liverpool surely need a win to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
POCHETTINO MUST BE BRAVE
Tottenham have seven games left to close a five-point gap on Leicester but this weekend is the last time Mauricio Pochettino’s side will play before the league leaders. It gives Spurs the opportunity to put pressure on the Foxes but it also means Pochettino has a tactical dilemma to address. If Leicester go on to lose, a draw at Anfield would represent a decent result, but Spurs have to assume Claudio Ranieri’s side will pick up another three points. If the game is in the balance in the second half, Pochettino must risk defeat and pile forward for victory.
WILL DIER HOLD BACK?
Tottenham’s only holding midfielder is one yellow card away from a two-match ban, which could seriously harm his side’s title hopes. If he is booked, Eric Dier will miss tough games against Manchester United and Stoke, with Spurs lacking any obvious player to take his place. A frantic contest between two high-energy teams is expected at Anfield and Dier may find it counter-productive to be cautious – but Tottenham do need their midfield general during the run-in. If Liverpool pour forward on the counter-attack, will Dier still make the challenge?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH LIVERPOOL’S HOME FORM?
Just one win in four league matches at Anfield in 2016 – five all season – speaks volumes about a side who are not yet entirely confident carrying out Jurgen Klopp’s instructions. Performances have often been tentative and timid, not helped by an anxious Anfield atmosphere, and when they lead they cannot close out matches as shown when even struggling Sunderland came back from 2-0 down in the last 10 minutes. Tottenham have picked up just nine points from the last possible 63 at Liverpool’s home ground but pose an altogether different threat this term.
AND AS FOR THE REDS’ DEFENCE…
Liverpool have kept just two clean sheets in their last 10 league matches as inconsistencies at the back continue to dog them. The central partnership of Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren looked to have clicked only for the latter to struggle last time out at Southampton. He was substituted at half-time but his replacement Martin Skrtel had a personal nightmare as Saints scored three times to win 3-2. Left-back Alberto Moreno has been unconvincing this season but Klopp has few alternatives. Spurs have scored more goals than any other side in the league so far and will be looking to capitalise.
BATTLE OF THE PRESSERS
There are distinct similarities between Pochettino and Klopp, with both managers urging their teams to hunt in packs in their opponents’ half while squeezing the space with a high defensive line. It is a system that requires excellent levels of fitness and, given Liverpool have dropped the most points (15) from winning positions in the division this term, they are perhaps still short, having not enjoyed the benefit of a pre-season under their new boss. Tottenham have certainly been more convincing but defeats last month to West Ham and Borussia Dortmund, both physical and highly energetic sides, showed they can be vulnerable when taken on at their own game. But if the Reds take the lead, can they hold on?
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