THE last time Tottenham played a competitive fixture, Christmas was still some way off while Omicron could have been one of the lesser-known Transformers for all we knew.
Since their routine dismissal of Norwich on December 5th, Spurs have seen three consecutive games postponed due to Covid outbreaks, two from their own misfortune, and when we factor in an earlier deferment at Burnley courtesy of the weather, it’s fair to say that Antonio Conte’s short tenure has been stop/start and difficult to fairly summarize.
We know they displayed battling qualities in abundance at Goodison Park during Conte’s first game in charge, the players clearly keen to prove a point about their character and that’s an encouraging starter for ten. We know too from three victories at home that there is more attacking intent now, with shot-tallies in each contest all exceeding their season’s average. There was a distinct absence of Spursy drama in these triumphs and that also bodes well.
But where does their bizarre and apathetic defeat to NS Mura fit into this, a humiliation that had the scowling Italian insist his team needed to ‘improve in many, many aspects’? And what about the persisting Harry Kane conundrum? Granted, the usually prolific hit-man scored in that demoralizing loss to Mura, and granted he has been more of a threat of late, but in the league a striker who was knocking on double figures at this stage last term has bagged just the once. Manchester United’s Fred has been twice as lethal. Fred.
???????? Tottenham Hotspur In All Competitions Under Antonio Conte:
???? Matches: 6
???? Won: 4
???? Drawn: 1
❌ Lost: 1
???? Position: 5th
⚽️ Goals For: 11
???? Goals Against: 5
— Last Word On Spurs ???????? (@LastWordOnSpurs) December 10, 2021
Furthermore, we are simply not privy to what extent Tottenham’s preparations for a demanding festive schedule has been disrupted by having eight players succumb to Covid, necessitating their training ground be closed for a week, not to mention then seeing their return against Leicester pulled at a late juncture. Truthfully, there is an equal chance of Conte’s men flying into Liverpool this weekend, revitalized and recharged, or appearing flat and out-of-sorts from the onset. Pre-empting their levels amounts to pure guesswork.
All we can do therefore is assess the players based on what we’ve seen so far, since the title-winning, ketchup-averse coach stepped through the door, starting with Ben Davies who has looked the absolute business, on the left of a back three, while Davinson Sanchez has shown genuine glimpses of improvement across from him. When the Colombian is good, he is very, very good but regrettably the reverse holds also.
In midfield we can expect a rare start for Harry Winks, with Oliver Skipp a doubt, and he will partner Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg who has been one of the few consistent performers for Spurs in 2021/22. Up front meanwhile, so much depends on the availability of Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura who were each hit by Covid. The former in particular has been firing on all cylinders under Conte although he does have a poor record against the Reds, with two goals from 11 encounters.
Regarding the visitors, our up-to-date information increases ten-fold. At Anfield on Thursday evening, Jurgen Klopp’s side won their sixth consecutive Premier League fixture since being panicked into a 3-2 defeat at West Ham and the manner in which they’ve responded to that setback is telling, conceding only twice since. Virgil Van Dijk may well be missing on Sunday and that of course will be a substantial loss, but Ibrahima Konate’s superb handling of the Magpies’ rare forays midweek is further proof that Liverpool presently possess reliable defensive strength in depth. Subsequently, concerns over its porousness – that arose early November – has petered out.
If the Reds’ back-line has finally clicked into title-contending mode, their attack has had a jump on them for several months. At Newcastle’s expense, Mo Salah’s 22nd goal of the season in all comps was remarkably the 15th consecutive game where the magical Egyptian has either scored or assisted but if you believe the odds on him continuing his goal-scoring streak is slim at 19/20 then consider the 27/5 available on him scoring twice or more. Salah has done so four times already this term.
Alternatively, go with Sadio Mane at a much more reasonable 17/10 to score anytime. Yes, the Senegalese striker has failed to convert now for 585 minutes while he hardy boasts a great return against Tottenham either, previously scoring just three in 14 in this contest. Sometimes though it’s okay to stray from form and trust gut instinct. And the 29-year-old is due one.
Lastly, we should revisit a long-standing trope that appears to be loudening this season, despite evidence to the contrary. Because while Klopp’s Liverpool have gained a reputation for quickly killing opponents off, with early goals said to be a significant aid to their success to date, they have in fact notched eight in the opening 20 minutes of matches which is a lower figure to Manchester City. By comparison, seven of their last ten strikes have come in the second half, signifying that they’re wearing sides down.