There is much that Tottenham and Liverpool have in common. Most obviously, both are led by coaches with a clear vision of wanting their teams to play in an ultra-intense, pressing style that demands plenty of their players but has so far delivered the results to make them two of the most respected coaches around. The teams lead by Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are also just two of the unprecedentedly large collection of clubs chasing one of the four Champions League places this season. And, ahead of their meeting at White Hart Lane on Saturday, both Tottenham and Liverpool are also still waiting to fully click into gear this season.
Liverpool has begun with the same inconsistency that plagued the team after Klopp took charge last October; thrilling in defeating one of the Premier League’s big guns one week and then slipping up against an unfancied side the next. This time a 4-3 win over Arsenal, in which Liverpool was rampant going forward in the second half, was followed by a 2-0 defeat to newly promoted Burnley, where a failure to turn more than 80 percent possession into goals was compounded by mistakes at the back.
While it is just one defeat, it raised questions about whether Liverpool had done enough business in this summer’s transfer window. The left-back slot remains an obvious concern, with Alberto Moreno continuing to be a defensive liability against Arsenal and midfielder James Milner asked to fill the role against Burnley. And, while Liverpool looks dangerous down the flanks, particularly through new signing Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson has been an unconvincing linchpin in the center of midfield.
Klopp has looked scornfully on at the huge transfer fees being paid elsewhere this summer and repeatedly insisted that there creating a winning team is far more about coaching than signing big-name players. Yet an extra piece or two before the close of the window could go a long way to aiding Liverpool’s chances of returning to the Champions League.
The same could be said of Tottenham. Last season for Spurs was something of a model for Liverpool to follow. Without spending the huge fees of some of its rivals, Pochettino built a young, hungry team that, although it fell short in the race for the title, earned a place in the top four.
But that success has brought not just higher expectations but the extra demands of the Champions League. Particularly given the way Pochettino demands every last drop of energy from his players, a larger squad is required. Thus far, though, just two players have arrived, midfielder Victor Wanyama and forward Vincent Janssen. Results in the first two games have been solid, with a 1-1 draw with Everton being followed by a 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace. But the fluidity of last season is still yet to be found.
Tottenham and chairman Daniel Levy are Known for doing their transfer business late, and it promises to be a hectic final few days of the transfer window at White Hart Lane. Although rumored targets like Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha suggest the priority is on filling out the squad rather than improving the first team.
Yet the worry for both Tottenham and Liverpool at this stage is that the early season form of the two Manchester clubs, City and Untied, and to a lesser extent Chelsea, suggests that if you aren’t taking big steps forward then you’re likely to be left behind. And while both Liverpool and Tottenham will likely hope to be stronger once the transfer window closes, every point this season could be crucial in the battle for the Champions League. That includes those on offer at White Hart Lane this Saturday.
Tottenham: Hugo Lloris remains sidelined through injury, while Mousa Dembele again misses out with suspension. Janssen could keep his place up front after showing well in his first start next week despite a glaring miss in front of goal.
Liverpool: Joel Matip could well get his first Premier League start in place of Ragnar Klavan after playing in the midweek Football League Cup win over Burton Albion. Mane should return to the starting lineup after starring against Burton on his return from an injury that kept him out against Burnley. Loris Karius, Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva remain sidelined.
Prediction: On paper, with two teams that like to pour forward with intensity, it promises to me an entertaining clash. While that wasn’t the case in a goalless draw in their first meeting last season, which was also Klopp’s first game in charge, a 1-1 draw in April featured plenty of action at both ends. Yet, after conceding five goals in its first five matches, Liverpool will be keen to keep things tighter at the back. Going forward, Mane’s return will give Liverpool much more cutting edge than it had against Burnley. The question for Pochettino is whether he again starts with both Kane and Janssen against tougher opposition. With both teams still trying to find their groove, a draw could be on the cards.
Predicted Score: Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool
Kickoff Time: Saturday, 7.30 a.m. EDT