Spurs and Liverpool are arguably the most exciting teams in the Premier League in terms of youth and raw energy involving their overall play. The key to their success, however, is based around their intent to press the opposition when they don’t possess the ball.
Both sides have been built by young managers that encourage high-pressing from the front and prefer to win possession in the opposition’s half, opposed to sitting deep and playing on the counter-attack. Although there are slight variances between the styles of pressing, the decision to defend in this manner is ground-breaking by Premier League standards.
In truth, neither side has been impressive breaking down deep defensive lines, so here, the route to goal may stem from a defensive mistake via pressing. Liverpool failed to score against Burnley last week despite monopolizing over 80% possession, while Spurs have encountered issues against Everton and Crystal Palace thus far.
With Hugo Lloris and Moussa Dembele out indefinitely, Michael Vorm and Victor Wanyama will deputize in their positions. The major personnel issue Pochettino faces is whether to persist with Vincent Janssen upfront ahead of Harry Kane, or recall Dele Alli. It’s likely the latter will occur with Kane returning to a centre-forward role, and Alli making late runs beyond the Liverpool defence, and aiming to create chances for last year’s golden boot winner.
From a tactical perspective, Spurs simply miss Dembele’s presence in midfield. Wanyama and Eric Dier offer similar traits ahead of the back four, and though the former scored the winner last week, Spurs currently lack dynamism and additional penetration throughout the final third. Kane is generally a slow starter, though his Euro 2016 performances may suggest otherwise, while Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela have yet to consistently pose a threat in attacking zones.
Nonetheless, there appears to be a general obsession with playing through the middle this season. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose present a genuine offensive threat in wide areas, but oddly Spurs aren’t utilizing their width, despite it leading to Lamela’s equalizer at Everton, whilst possibly maximizing Kane’s aerial threat around the box.
Liverpool, on the other hand, may also rejig the attack that failed to trouble newly promoted Burnley side. That XI witnessed Daniel Sturridge start from the right-hand side and Roberto Firmino from a central position, which ultimately poses several questions for Klopp. Sturridge’s game is all about working the channels and running off the last defender’s shoulder, so he could thrive against a Spurs high-line.
“The first thing is I don’t want to play Daniel as a wide player but of course he can start there and play there but in the decisive moments he needs to be involved in all the finishing situations,” said Klopp.
“When a striker plays in the centre it makes no sense so you have to change positions. Daniel is a very smart player in hiding himself in positions where it is not easy to defend and it is very often in a wing position. When he is not involved any more in defending you need a smart striker who takes the centre-half and moves them into a position where they don’t feel comfortable. It is only a starting position for the next offensive move for my team.”
However, Klopp could turn to Sadio Mane’s pace and ability to break from the right or centrally, here, which would also torment Pochettino’s defence. Firmino is unlikely to be dropped, and his ability to play with his back to goal to invite forward runners could see Mane start from the right, and Sturridge dropped.
Klopp’s attacking players will also be forced to do their defensive duties, whether it being pressing from the front, or tracking runs. Rose and Walker are possibly the most attack-minded full-backs in the league, and will aim to break past Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is undoubtedly a match-defining battle considering James Milner is likely to fill in as a make-shift left back, and his positioning along with Nathaniel Clyne’s could be exposed.
While Spurs’ powerful double-pivot of Wanyama and Dier hardly offers penetration from deep, it does give license to Rose and Walker to venture forward to ensure they attack with six men. It also enables Spurs to squeeze from the front, and given the case Liverpool bypasses the initial press, Wanyama and Dier would be available to sweep up.
Spurs have enough of an aerial threat to pose issues via crosses from wide areas and set-pieces, and until their front four shows a glimpse of last year’s form, this may be their key route to goal besides forcing mistakes through pressing. Liverpool have often relied on Coutinho’s brilliance when they struggled from open play, but this is a game that suits their strengths.
Pochettino’s men will aim to dictate the tempo, and assuming they don’t sit a few yards deeper, Klopp’s side possess the intricate passing, pace, and powerful running from both midfielders and attackers to harm Spurs’ high-line. With both team’s aiming to overcome profligacy around the penalty box, it will be interesting to see how long they persist with pressing in advanced areas.
Where last year’s match was cagey and resulted in the two sides negating the opposition’s threat, it’s unlikely that we’ll witness another score-less draw given the evolution of both sides since Klopp’s debut. Nonetheless, Liverpool’s defensive and possible match-up issues suggest this may be the day Spurs finally locate last year’s groove.