At last, the match I promised you is about to arrive, as Tottenham entertain Liverpool tomorrow at White Hart Lane in the early Saturday kickoff. Spurs will be looking to start a winning streak while extending their unbeaten run to 3 matches. Liverpool, meanwhile, will attempt to banish the spectre of a shock defeat to Burnley last weekend and get their season going in the right direction again.
It’s rare to be able to draw meaningful statistical distinctions between teams so early in a season, but Spurs and the Reds have offered plenty to chew over from just two matches. Liverpool are the early offensive juggernauts, tied for 3rd most goals scored in the league at 4. They even managed to put 5 past Burton Albion in their league cup match earlier this week. Unfortunately, they’re also among the leakiest defenses in the division, having conceded 5 goals in their opening two Premier League games. Spurs, on the other hand, are tied for first in the league for least goals conceded at 1. However, they also struggle to score, having notched just twice between the Everton and Palace matches.
FORM & FITNESS
Late news Thursday wasn’t promising for Liverpool fans, as it appears Philippe Coutinho is a doubt for Saturday’s game with a muscle strain. The diminutive Brazilian has scored 2 of the Reds’ 4 league goals thus far, and poses a threat from both open play and set pieces with his precision in striking from distance. Spurs’ keeper Vorm will certainly rest easier if the little magician cannot play Saturday, but that decision will likely be made very close to kickoff. Other notable possible absentees for Liverpool include midfielders Emre Can and Divock Origi.
Spurs will still be without suspended midfielder Moussa Dembele and injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, but otherwise can call upon their full battalion to tackle the Reds. The squad was slightly trimmed on Thursday, though, with midfielder Nabil Bentaleb moving to Schalke in the Bundesliga on a year-long loan.
Saturday’s game is a meeting of the minds for two managers who employ a similar style of play. Both Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino demand that their teams play a high energy pressing game in order to stifle opposition attackers and create opportunities from turnovers in the opponent’s half. Which one of their teams will do it better at the weekend is anybody’s guess, but my money will be on Spurs based simply on the fit players at their disposal.
Liverpool’s midfield could potentially be quite depleted, and players like Coutinho and Can are valuable not just for their skill, but their stamina and pressing off the ball. If Klopp is missing such key men in midfield, it could be advantage Tottenham, as the hosts boast a potent pressing contingent including Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela, Eric Dier, and Christian Eriksen. Spurs’ strikers, Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen, also work incredibly hard off the ball, so getting out of their own half could be quite a challenge for a Liverpool back line that has struggled to keep clean sheets so far this season.
ERIK LAMELA, SPURS
If last week was any indication, Spurs’ tricky Argentine winger is poised for a breakthrough year. Lamela does everything his manager asks of him on both sides of the ball, with creative movement and a touch of flair complemented by a defensive work ethic most attackers don’t have. His ability to create chances for teammates and willingness to drive at defenders makes him vital to Spurs’ attack, and he’ll be preying on a shaky backline on Saturday. Expect a goal, assist, or both from the newly christened “free-role” man of the Spurs front 4.
ROBERTO FIRMINO, LIVERPOOL
In the event that Coutinho can’t influence proceedings on Saturday due to fitness concerns, his compatriot Roberto Firmino will be looked to as the source of Liverpool’s attacking invention. Firmino was among Liverpool’s scorers in midweek, and his finishing touch will be vital to help them make the most of their chances against Spurs. Even without Lloris in goal, the home side’s back line has looked solid in their opening fixtures, and a player of Firmino’s quality feeding balls into Sturridge and Mané may be what is required to break them down.
2-1 SPURS, goals from Lamela, Kane, and Mane
This one is going to be tight, and though both teams are well capable of scoring 3 or 4 goals, I don’t see it happening. Spurs’ defense is too disciplined to allow Liverpool through that many times, while Klopp’s counter-press will keep the chances Kane and Co. get to a minimum. Individual moments of quality will decide this one.