A lot has happened to Tottenham Hotspur since the last time they played Liverpool. For one, they lost in that meeting which just happened to be the Champions League final at the Wanda Metropolitano. And since then the two teams have seemingly been going in opposite directions. Tottenham has been struggling in the league and dealing with an aging team that seemingly has peaked in its current incarnation. Liverpool, by contrast, are unbeaten through nine league matches and have taken 25 of 27 possible points.
Setting aside for a second that they’re (ugh) Liverpool, there’s a lot to like about this Reds team. They are indisputably fun to watch — an example of high energy attacking football that, on its day, can steamroll any team in the world. Liverpool’s front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane is quite possibly the most formidable attack in Europe, though Manchester City fans will dispute this loudly. The not-so-hidden secret to their offensive prowess, however, is their fullback play. The tandem of Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold is phenomenal — they have combined for five assists, slightly underperforming their combined xA90 of 0.64.
Their defense is also outstanding, anchored by Virgil van Dijk. While not at the top of the advanced metrics, Liverpool are joint top of the table in goals allowed (7, with Sheffield) and face an average of 9 shots/game. Their ability to counterattack opponents into oblivion makes them particularly dangerous, though Manchester United has shown that Liverpool can be slowed down under the right circumstances. They’ve been undeniably excellent at Anfield, however, outscoring their opponents 12 to 4 at home.
That’s not to say that everything’s wine and roses. Although a very good team, Joel Wertheimer has posited in Statsbomb that there are some worrying statistical trends lurking in the background of Liverpool’s results this season, including over-reliance on the fullbacks as part of their offense, and an offensive regression from Mohamed Salah. Their hot start may carry a significant whiff of luck along with the undeniable talent, though it certainly hasn’t slowed them down much.
So, exceptional attack, solid defense, and a horseshoe shoved firmly up their asses, against a team that couldn’t manage to beat Watford or Newcastle at home. Sounds like a big loss for Spurs, right?
Not necessarily. Alexander-Arnold is reportedly a doubt after coming down ill just before Liverpool’s match against Genk yesterday. He’s being assessed but might not be fit in time to play on Sunday. Robertson also picked up a knock against the Belgians, though Jurgen Klopp has said that he’s probably fine. However, both fullbacks already have a lot of miles on the tires, and considering their importance to Liverpool’s team they don’t have a lot in terms of cover for their positions.
Tottenham, meanwhile, are coming off of a big Champions League win of their own against an admittedly poor Red Star Belgrade. Even so, optimism levels are rising at Spurs, and if they can come out and attack a defense that is unlikely to sit deep and bunker against them (like, cough, they did in Madrid) there’s a fleeting possibility that Spurs could spring a surprise.
On the other hand, Spurs will need to put in a significantly stouter defensive performance than what we’ve seen in the league thus far. We don’t know what Pochettino will do on Sunday, but the once-imperious defensive tandem of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld has shown some brittleness and fragility at times. There’s no room for that when you have Firmino, Mane, and Salah running at you.
To be sure, a loss at Anfield is the expected outcome. It’s just that, for the first time in what feels like all season, there’s a ray of hope that Tottenham can engineer a good match against a top six opponent. Hope is a thing with feathers. Cockerels have feathers, but so do Liverbirds.
How will Tottenham line up against Liverpool?
There’s an argument to be made that the lineup we saw against Red Star on Tuesday is quite possibly Tottenham’s best available XI. They certainly played that way! And while there’s a good chance that Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon will both crack that XI eventually, I wouldn’t mind rolling that same team out against Liverpool on Sunday.
However, I don’t think we’ll get the same team. If Liverpool are missing one or both of their starting fullbacks, it might benefit them to put on their speediest, most direct attackers and go straight at them. That’s why I predict we’ll get Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min in the attacking band behind Harry Kane, with Dele playing the role of creator. However, we could very easily see Christian Eriksen return to the lineup if you believe his absence from the match on Tuesday had more to do with saving him for Liverpool than Pochettino making a point. On the OTHER other hand, after his fantastic display against Red Star, can you really leave Erik Lamela out of this lineup?
Tanguy Ndombele had a very encouraging match midweek, not least because he finally went 90 minutes. You can certainly argue that this means he’s more likely to start on the bench at Anfield, but considering how well our midfield played I’d like to see the Ndombeloko pivot a second time, though this time against significantly tougher opposition. Harry Winks is right there, though, and that’s probably cause for concern.
Defensively, with Spurs not playing again until the following weekend, I can’t see a justification for rotating the fullbacks. I’m putting the Belgian bros back together again, but it’s quite possible we’ll see Sanchez in, possibly for Vertonghen if Pochettino’s comments about a precautionary sub are correct.
There’s a good chance that we’ll see something close, if not precisely, what I’ve predicted here. What I want to see however is a distinctly un-diamondish formation, and a whole lot of pushing forward.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur against Liverpool at Anfield this Sunday. What’s yours?