TOTTENHAM (h), Aston Villa (a), Southampton (a), Wolves (h). These are Liverpool’s remaining fixtures, all of which must be realistically won should they hope to capitalize on any slip-up from an equally ruthless Manchester City.
From their perspective then, it is extremely encouraging that besides the hosting of Spurs this Saturday evening at Anfield, it’s hard to see any other outcome to maximum points being attained given the Reds’ long-standing form and sharpened mindset. Across a largely imperious campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s ferocious collective have only lost twice and failed to score on just a single occasion. They have already amassed more shots than the entirety of last term and incredibly kept clean sheets in 61.7% of their league games. In recent weeks they have somehow managed to ramp up their relentless, high intensity foraging to an extent where their last three Premier League opponents have managed to win a solitary corner per 90. It used to be that it was immensely difficult to carve out a genuine opportunity against them. Now it’s a rare achievement to secure a chance to create a chance.
In their corresponding fixtures with Villa, Southampton and Wolves, all were won fairly comfortably without a goal being conceded.
While the title contenders are giving away hardly any set-pieces the opposite applies up front. Their season-long average of 7.4 corners per game has been ratcheted up at Anfield lately to just shy of 10 per game. Over 7.5 corners for the hosts therefore at 5/4 is a must.
So, though it would be remiss to take anything for granted, as the pressure mounts and the stakes get sky-high, it feels inconceivable at present to imagine points being dropped in those concluding three commitments, contests that have the opposition resemble lambs and Salah, Jota and company the slaughter. That’s what we should assume until we’re informed otherwise anyway.
Spurs though, well they’re very different kettle of fish.
Or at least that’s what we conjure up when we think of these clashes, picturing Harry Kane scoring, which he has done seven times in 14 previous encounters with Liverpool. We picture too all manner of back-and-to dramas as two fantastically put together teams – which is especially true of the Pochettino era – collide.
Kane slicing right through the Liverpool defence in the reverse fixture this season…pic.twitter.com/hDchex9olh
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It surprises therefore when bringing up the head to heads to discover that Tottenham have only won once against their Merseyside rivals in their last 20 meetings. Granted, this dominance has necessitated a couple of last-minute winners and equalisers but if the North London giants are a problem for Liverpool, they’re a problem that is usually solved.
But we return briefly to Kane and, specifically, to his phenomenal partnership with Son Heung-min. How can we not? Between them, this duo, who have combined for more Premier League goals than any other twosome in the competition’s relatively short history have been on fire of late, scoring 18 goals and assisting ten times in their last 12 outings. At home to Leicester last Sunday, they were at it again, being the difference; making Spurs a formidable proposition as they chase to the last for a top four spot and it can be reasonably argued that Liverpool’s back-line won’t face a tougher test from now until the season’s end. That hypothesis includes the possibly of facing Real Madrid – Benzema and Vinicius and all – in a Champions League final.
Acknowledging this does simplify a key aspect to this weekend’s potential humdinger, that being for all of Tottenham’s confusing attributes and flaws – of which we’ll get to very shortly – should Liverpool’s back five successfully contain Kane and block out the Son their impressive record in this fixture will be extended.
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It’s an outcome that feels plausible, maybe even likely, considering the magnificent form of Van Dijk and Matip, with a safety net of Alisson behind them, and though it’s perfectly understandable that Liverpool’s attacking merits receives the baulk of the team’s acclaim it’s highly pertinent how watertight they’ve been at the other end in recent weeks. In the league, only Manchester City have breached them in their last nine games and that means, going all the way back to mid-February, Klopp’s men are conceding at a rate of one in every seven-and-a-bit hours of competitive football. Even Kane and Son’s prolificacy pales to that.
Ahead of this red fortress Thiago is the stand-out performer, adding guile and creativity to what was once an engine-room fuelled by sweat and toil, and the Spanish maestro’s 88.9 pass completion rate in 2021/22 is quite remarkable when it’s factored in how seldomly he takes the safe option.
Then inevitably we come to the forward cast. Mo Salah has rippled the back of the net every 122 minutes this season. Jota has five Premier League goal involvements in six. Diaz has three in three.
The luxury Klopp now has to chop and change his front three, keeping them fresh, has played a huge part in their season regardless of whether it ends with a quadruple, treble, double or if they are forever viewed as a truly great side that was struck by misfortune.
As for Spurs, on their day they can actually match their hosts for firepower and indeed no other side in the top-flight has scored more regularly in their last 16 games. Yet even with Kane and Son in lethal harmony, and even with Dejan Kulusevski fast becoming an assist king, this is a side that recently failed to elicit a single shot on target in consecutive games against Brighton and Brentford. This is a side that either mercilessly dismantles an opponent or forgets to bring their toolkit.
Under Antonio Conte it has largely been a case of feast or famine and of course it matters greatly which version of Spurs heads up the M1 to Merseyside at the weekend. Regarding the result however, maybe that’s not in much doubt.