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Pochettino on Liverpool match: “Important, but not decisive”

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Spurs’ manager tried to play down the significance of his club’s trip to Liverpool on Saturday.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur’s trip to Liverpool on Saturday is almost certainly the most high profile Premier League match of the week. It’s for good reason: the two clubs have battled each other to a standstill since Jurgen Klopp took over, having drawn all three league matches they’ve played since his appointment, and both are battling for a place in the Champions League qualification spots.

Spurs are currently alone in second place in the table, slightly ahead of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, but nine points behind league leaders Chelsea. The Blues look to have a stranglehold on the league title at the moment, but there are still plenty of matches remaining. Which is why Mauricio Pochettino, in his weekly press conference, tried to downplay the significance of the match at Anfield, one that should provide a stiff test to his in-form Tottenham side.

“Like all the games, Middlesbrough and now Liverpool, every game is important because always you play for three points. It’s true that this is not a decisive game because there are a lot of games ahead to play. It will be an important game and if we are capable of winning and achieving the three points it will be important for us to keep our position in the table and try to put pressure on Chelsea. It’s true that it’s not a decisive game but it’s a very important game.

“The important thing is to try to get the three points because our objective is to try to reduce the gap to Chelsea and for that we need to be ready to fight because it will be a very, very difficult game. They are not on a good run but Liverpool have very good players – for me it’s one of the best squads, not only in England but in Europe. Be sure that they will be motivated because always Liverpool v Tottenham is a big match.”

One of the biggest questions about Spurs heading into Saturday’s game is tactical. With Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose set to miss the match, Spurs will be without two key pieces of their league-best defense.

The injury to Rose is perhaps the most significant, and while Ben Davies is a capable replacement, Spurs have been missing his pace and dynamism on the left flank. We’ve seen Pochettino address that in the past few games by reverting to the 4-2-3-1 formation in the past few matches, with Eric Dier beside Toby Alderweireld and moving Kevin Wimmer to the bench.

Those changes came against sides that mostly tended to sit back and play on the counterattack. Liverpool at Anfield is likely to be different: the expectation is that the Reds will come straight at Tottenham and try and test their defense. One main concern is that the absence of Rose, combined with Davies’ (relative) lack of mobility on the flank may mean trouble against Liverpool, especially if the Reds try and exploit a matchup between Davies and Sadio Mane.

Pochettino, however, downplayed any potential tactical tweaks ahead of the match, saying that while the formation might change, Spurs’ overall philosophy will not.

“Liverpool and Tottenham have clear ideas of how we want to play. Maybe we are similar but not the same in our principles. I respect Liverpool a lot and the way that they play, we need to be clever like they will be to try to beat us and I think like always when we play Liverpool it will be very high-tempo and intense. It will be a very, very tough game for both sides.

“We never change. Sometimes we use different formations or different players to play but in our principles, we never change – like [Liverpool] or like Chelsea, United or Southampton. All teams have their principles and then they move a little bit to the left or right, up or down, but every coaching staff has their style and nobody wants to change, they only want to impose their ideas.”

The Reds’ have had a dismal run of form in 2017. Liverpool have only taken three points out of their league matches since the new year, scoring a mere six goals. By contrast, Harry Kane has scored six goals by himself for Tottenham, who have accumulated 14 points in the same span. However, Pochettino isn’t taking this match lightly.

“I can’t explain [Liverpool’s bad run], I cannot speak about another team that is not mine, only I can say that we had the same problem in November when we were playing in the Champions League. After Manchester City I think it was seven or eight games without a victory and always in 10 months, during a whole season, every club and every team can have ups and downs. For us it was the same but for me the most important thing is they are a very good team, they have very good players and they will be motivated like us. We need to be motivated and ready to fight because it’s a different game when you play against teams like Liverpool.”

Tottenham’s match at Liverpool kicks off at 5:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) this Saturday, and will be broadcast live on BT Sport 1 in the UK and NBC in USA.