01 April 2016

Liverpool v Tottenham 04.02.16

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 10.17.15
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.10.15
3-0 Liverpool (a) 08.31.14
4-0 Liverpool (h) 03.30.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-3 Southampton (a); 1-1 United (a); 2-0 United (h)
Tottenham: 3-0 Bournemouth (h); 1-2 Dortmund (h); 2-0 Villa (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino 8; Benteke 7; Coutinho 6; Milner 5; Sturridge 4; Lallana 3; Henderson, Ings, Lallana, Origi 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Skrtel, Toure 1
Tottenham: Kane 21; Alli 7; Eriksen 6; Alderweireld, Chadli, Dembele, Dier, Lamela 3; Son 2; Carroll, Mason, Rose, Trippier, Walker 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Sakho Moreno
Henderson Can
Milner Lallana Coutinho

Maybe the international break will have been good for Liverpool.

Liverpool most definitely need to forget that match. It never happened, don't do it again. Ideally, the international break – either joining up with their national sides or training with Klopp in Tenerife – will have helped do so.

Of course, the international break can't be too good for Liverpool. Origi's available, despite leaving the Belgian squad with a thigh injury, as is Coutinho, who traveled to South America and back in the space of a week. Moreno's questionable due to an injury sustained before the break, while Firmino's doubtful with a similar issue. Benteke, who also left the Belgian squad, won't be fit.

Aside from the Belgians, everyone else came back fit. Even Sturridge, who trained with Hodgson for a whole week and played 60 minutes against Holland without any issues. That's always a welcomed bonus.

Liverpool's XI seemingly depends on Firmino's fitness. If he's available, it's what we've seen for the last few weeks: the 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid, the only personnel questions about whether Moreno's fit enough to feature and whether it's Lallana or Milner who plays on the right.

If he's not, it's most likely Lallana in Firmino's role and Milner on the right. However, a more "orthodox" 4-4-2 isn't out of the question: Origi instead of Milner, Lallana and Coutinho "wide," Henderson and Can in midfield. Or, possibly, more of a diamond midfield, with Can at the base, Henderson and Lallana on the sides, and Coutinho at the apex.

Whatever formation or personnel Liverpool choose, Liverpool will have to out-work the hardest working side in the league, create chances and take those chances, and not do anything stupid in defense. As per usual. The first half at Southampton, not the second half.

And whatever formation or personnel Liverpool choose, they'll be facing the best defense in the league. They'll be facing a side that's done what Liverpool need to do in the future, that plays how Liverpool will try to play next season. A water-tight defense, an insane work-rate, intense pressing, runners from midfield adding to the attack, a superstar striker staying fit and scoring for fun.

Spurs are mostly healthy after the international break: Alderweireld missed Belgium's games through illness but trained this week, while Vertonghen, Bentaleb, and N'Jie remain injured. Which probably makes Spurs' XI the same Spurs XI we've seen over the last few weeks. A 4-3-3 that sometimes appears a 4-2-3-1: Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose; Dier, Dembele, Alli; Lamela, Kane, Eriksen.

In the unlikely case that Alderweireld's not available, Dier probably has to drop into defense, with either Mason as a direct replacement in midfield or, more likely, a shuffle in midfield makes the side much more of a 4-2-3-1, either Son or Chadli coming into the attacking line of three. There's also a slight possibility that the more rested Son Heung-Min plays instead of Lamela, who – like Coutinho – traveled to and from South America even if he didn't get off the bench for Argentina.

Liverpool have been hit and miss after international breaks. We saw the 1-3 at Manchester United debacle under Rodgers, 0-0 at Tottenham in Klopp's first match, and then the 4-1 demolition of Manchester City. In Liverpool's defense, none of those were easy matches, all were away from home, and they've gotten better results in each successive fixture. That said, international breaks haven't affected Tottenham as much, if at all: in addition to that 0-0 against Liverpool, they played out a boring, unimpressive 1-0 win at Sunderland and crushed West Ham 4-1.

There's no way that a Klopp side looks past tomorrow's game. But let's be clear: league matches have become much more important to Tottenham than they are for Liverpool. One side needs to keep pace with Leicester, the other saw an already unlikely attempt at fourth finally go bye-bye after the collapse at Southampton. If Tottenham lose while Leicester win this weekend, it'll be an eight-point gap with six games to play – a sentence that still confuses the hell out of me. All of Liverpool's hopes are in the Europa League, with Dortmund (you know, probably the third- or fourth-best team in Europe) coming to Anfield five days after this fixture.

Tottenham will also be well aware that they haven't beaten Liverpool since November 2012, in Brendan Rodgers' first match against this opposition. Since then: 3-2, 5-0, 4-0, 3-0, 3-2, and 0-0.

Two sides who play in a similar manner, with one more settled and simply better at it (at least for the moment). One side still chasing the title, and with revenge on its mind. One side who needs to respond after the last league failure and to build momentum before a massive Europa League match, who wants to take yet another big scalp after beating City twice, Chelsea, and their undying rivals in European competition.

Tottenham take the most shots per match in the league, Liverpool the third-most. Liverpool allow the second-fewest shots per match in the league, Tottenham the fourth-fewest. Tottenham have scored the most goals in the league, Liverpool have, um, not. Tottenham have conceded the fewest goals in the league, Liverpool have, um, not. This could end 3-2, for the third time in the last four seasons, it could end 0-0 for the second successive meeting.

Regardless, it will be brutal. As well it should be. Look out.

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