The title race in the Premier League this season seems to be over already. Manchester City are 15 points clear of their Red neighbours and have all but seized the trophy. The relegation battle is far more interesting with just 4 points separating West Brom in 20th and Newcastle United in 14th positions. There is one more mini-relegation battle brewing higher up the table. With Manchester City cornering the top position, the other five “Big Six” teams have to fight for three Champions League spots. The two teams who might miss out will indeed be relegated to the Europa League next season in all probabilities. This Sunday, two of these five teams – Liverpool and Tottenham – go head to head at Anfield. Both the teams gained ascendancy in the midweek games as the other three sides lost.
Liverpool were so spurred on by their 4-1 loss to Spurs at Wembley in October, that they went on an 18-game unbeaten spree across all competitions. The run ended only recently when the Reds unexpectedly lost to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. This defeat was followed by a VAR-marred defeat in the FA Cup against West Brom. However, during the midweek game at Huddersfield, Liverpool seemed to have shed their Robinhood avatar, as they thrashed the Terriers 3-0. Despite the twin setbacks in terms of results and Philippe Coutinho’s untimely departure, Liverpool are in a pretty good position. They sit third in the table at 50 points – level with Chelsea but ahead on goal difference. Further, the last time Liverpool had 50 points after 25 games in the Premier League was during the 2013-14 season.
Tottenham are undergoing perhaps the toughest run of games in the schedule this season with three consecutive league matches against other Big Six rivals. Spurs already beat Manchester United during the midweek fixtures, which will be followed up by the Liverpool game and finally they end this run with the North London derby at home next week. Tottenham are generally poor travellers having not won away against any of the Big Six rivals in the last ten attempts. However, despite their poor away form, Tottenham are in a great position. They are fifth with only two points separating them from Liverpool. A win on Sunday can see them back in the top four spots. Tottenham have been hard to beat recently as only Manchester City have beaten them since November. There are other reasons for optimism as well, namely Lucas Moura’s signing from PSG. Pochettino will be hoping that these positives are enough for his team to win at Anfield.
Although Nathaniel Clyne is recovering well and has been named in the Champions League squad, he is still far from starting a game. Adam Lallana also had an injury scare earlier in the week and is not likely to feature. Ragnar Klavan is also a doubt due to injury, which means that Virgil van Dijk is likely to get his Premier League home debut on Sunday.
Mauricio Pochettino has no injury worries as his entire squad is fit. However, Lucas Moura who has just signed from PSG is unlikely to feature so early. Toby Alderweireld is fit again but Pochettino might not start the Belgian at Anfield.
- In 51 Premier League meetings, Liverpool have won 23, Spurs have won 14 and 14 have been drawn. In the last five encounters between the two teams, Liverpool have won 2 and drawn 2.
- Although Tottenham are not great travellers, they have won seven points in the last three games, after gaining only one point in the five games before that. However, Spurs are currently on a streak of four consecutive defeats in away games to Top Six rivals.
- On the other hand, Jurgen Klopp is unbeaten in his last 12 games against the Top Six rivals. The only defeat he has suffered against these teams is a 1-0 loss to Manchester United in January 2016. Indeed, this season Liverpool are one of only two sides to be unbeaten at home in the league.
- Harry Kane, who has contributed 6 goals in 6 Premier League games against Liverpool, will attempt to score his 100th Premier League goal. On the other hand, Mohamed Salah will attempt to be the fastest to 20 goals in Liverpool’s Premier League history.
The reason why Liverpool is having a season like 2013-14 at least in terms of points is that they are scoring goals – a lot of them. And a lot of the goals that the Reds are scoring are scored or assisted by their Egyptian talisman. Mohamed Salah has scored 25 goals in all competitions so far and is showing no signs of letting up. When he is not able to score from open play, he demands spot kicks and converts them. Add 7 assists to his goals tally and his total contribution comes to 32 goals in 29 appearances. His xG per 90 minutes and xA per 90 minutes add up to 1.05, meaning he is sure to contribute a goal every 90 minutes. For Liverpool to beat their close rivals, Salah will have to be on the top of his game.
Christian Eriksen may not be as prolific in scoring as Salah or his own teammate Harry Kane. But he is the one who brings a tremendous creative spark to this Spurs side. He can of course directly contribute goals as he showed with the second-quickest goal of Premier League history (11 seconds) on Wednesday against Manchester United. He has scored 7 goals and assisted 6 so far. However, it is not just his final actions that pose a threat. Eriksen’s value in the build-up to Tottenham’s goals is captured by hi xGBuildup value of 10.79 (www.understat.com). This means that Eriksen’s build-up play could have contributed almost 11 goals for Spurs this season. Eriksen will have to be as sharp as he was against United for Spurs to take any points away from Anfield.
This match brings together two evenly matched sides bent on attacking. It promises to be a very interesting game with lots of goals in it. However, with their home advantage and their general recent ascendancy over Tottenham, one would say that Liverpool are the favourites to sneak a win on Sunday.