Liverpool top the Premier League going into the weekend’s action, but could be displaced before Sunday with second-placed Manchester City facing Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am.
Meanwhile, Tottenham sit third in the table, and four league games without a win has seen Mauricio Pochettino’s side slip from title contenders to battling for a top-four spot with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.
As a result, Sunday’s clash will be key in deciding the fate of both sides come the end of the season, and here, the Soccer Saturday pundits look at the key talking points going into the match.
The key battle
Phil Thompson: A big key battle will be the strikers. It is not Mohamed Salah but Sadio Mane who is Liverpool’s in-form striker at the moment, and if he can continue his hot streak then Tottenham will be in trouble.
Tottenham will come at Liverpool as they need points for the Champions League. Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino will have a bit more room if Tottenham come out and attack, which I think they will.
The other battle will be Harry Kane against Virgil van Dijk. Kane is a top striker – he is an original centre-forward but can drift off centre-backs and play the No.10 role just as well. Van Dijk will have to read the game and talk to his midfield players. It is a battle of strength as well as skill between them two.
Matt Le Tissier: I think the key battle will be between Kane and Van Dijk. If he keeps Kane quiet, then I think Liverpool win the game. However, we have seen how good Kane can be and that he can lift the Tottenham team on his own. He got a double last season and whoever comes out on top in that battle wins the game for me.
Liverpool’s wing-backs, mainly Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, have been a key part of Liverpool’s success this season. The amount of assists they have between them has been impressive, so Pochettino must have a plan to stop them both – they have been pivotal to what Liverpool have been doing.
I think Christian Eriksen is a big part of what Tottenham do. A lot of the time you see Tottenham doing well when he is pulling the strings. He will be a key player, more so than Dele Alli, and has been very effective for Tottenham this season. His assists this term are quite high and Liverpool will attempt to shut him down pretty quickly I would imagine – he is the main creative spark in the side.
Charlie Nicholas: The wide areas are key to the match, but Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose will be pivotal for Tottenham in stopping this from happening. Those will be the key battles.
I think there are so many differing areas to focus on, but that is where the big teams attempt to try and break you down. Liverpool don’t have a lot of height, but Tottenham can have the height in Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Any single individual can light this match up and I am excited for it to take place.
Paul Merson: There will be battles all over the place, but it has to be Virgil van Dijk versus Harry Kane. I watched Kane play against Montenegro and, at times, it was like England were playing with 10 men. He was having a bad game and he does have bad games now and then, but he still popped up with a goal.
The biggest compliment I can pay to Kane is that his confidence never wanes, he could be having the worst game but he’ll never shy away, he will keep on trying things and getting involved. The problem for Liverpool is that Van Dijk could have Kane in his pocket for 89 minutes and then, bang, Kane does something out of the ordinary.
We saw a little glimpse of the old Van Dijk while he was on international duty with the Netherlands. He’s removed that lackadaisical element of his game this season at Liverpool, but we saw it against Germany when he casually strolled over to Serge Gnabry, and he whipped the ball into the top corner. That has not been Van Dijk this season, he has defended properly week in, week out. I would be a little worried if I was a Liverpool fan seeing that because you cannot afford to do that against Kane. It may be easy for Van Dijk all afternoon but he has to remain focused throughout, because it only takes a second for someone like Kane to punish you.
How will the international break have affected both teams?
Thompson: It’s always a worry and you cannot really gauge it. Everyone looks at the two weeks off, but not many players from either side will have actually had time off. Mane and Alisson have clocked up some miles which has worried me – the mental fatigue of travelling for these players can occur, but you have to get on with it.
This is the life of being a top professional and an international footballer. The most experienced players are kind of used to it too. It’s nice to get a rest but at England, if you are a Tottenham fan, you would be happy. They played on the Monday night so they have a little rest before the Sunday game. The way the international fixtures are, it gives you more of a break than it used to, with teams playing on a Wednesday.
Le Tissier: It’s difficult to assess in great detail. Players are away and travelling, even if they haven’t started or played, so it will have a small effect on them. I don’t think it has a massive effect however and they can be fairly minimal – sometimes those minimal differences can sway the game.
Nicholas: Roberto Firmino and the Brazilian boys have been in Europe so it has not been too dramatic for them. Virgil van Dijk had a poor midweek, but then you have the other English boys who had an easy and controlled week. The frantic nature of the first 20 minutes at Anfield, where you cannot get out and you have the crowd going at you, will be very important.
Tottenham will have the mindset of sitting in and not giving Liverpool any time on the ball – if they do start to force the game, it will suit Tottenham more. We should always focus on the front three, but Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will attempt to push higher up like normal – they have great deliveries on them and teams find it hard to get out.
Merson: It’s a tough one for managers. They’ve got three days at the most to get the players back and decide on a system for this game.
How can Spurs buck their Anfield record?
(Tottenham last won a Premier League game at Anfield in 2011…)
Thompson: I just think Tottenham are now ingrained into the ‘big six’. It’s not just money-wise but the players and manager make Tottenham a top team. They have demonstrated some really good performances at Anfield.
The Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham match a couple of years ago is one I could give as an example. Tottenham were outstanding but it was a couple of mistakes that cost them. They will come without fear and I have no doubt they will have a lot of confidence. They have lost three out of their last four in the Premier League but they are in touching distance of the new stadium – they will want Champions League football next season so they will be going all out for it. They have the confidence and ability to give Liverpool a game.
Le Tissier: It will be a tricky one. They drew last year but it has been a while since they have won there. If they are going to buck that trend, they have to have a perfect performance, and I think that will be the only way that it will happen.
The one thing that could work in their favour is that they are playing Liverpool quite late in the season and so they may be nervous. People are looking at the fixtures and thinking that Liverpool could drop points in this one.
Tottenham will need a tip-top performance – they cannot go to Anfield, put in a poor display and still come out with the win in my eyes. That would not happen.
Nicholas: I think this will be a fantastic game of football to watch. Liverpool will have to go out for the win whereas Spurs will convince themselves that a draw is good enough. I think with the qualities that are in there, Pochettino will go with a back three and go for a man-on-man situation, with wing-backs pushing Liverpool’s wing-backs further back, while the midfield will be strong in protecting.
Tottenham will suffocate the central area and force Liverpool to go wide. The two Spurs wing-backs will block Liverpool’s. The Liverpool front three are great but when they are cold they do struggle collectively.
This is the one in which I think Liverpool will struggle and drop points. Tottenham can afford to be patient and will be happy with a draw. If Liverpool can overturn this, they may well be favourites for the title. Tottenham are hot and cold but if they can stop the service for the front three, then they may be available to stop Liverpool from having an effect on the game.
Merson: Spurs have got to come away from Anfield without losing, a point would be massive in the race for the top four. Spurs have got to get through the first 20 minutes. The longer the game goes on, the more of a chance Spurs have of winning the game. The pressure will get to Liverpool if things don’t go well, players will start snatching at shots. But if they hit the front early they will start relaxing and then Spurs will be in trouble. It’s all about breaking this game down into sections for Spurs, the first 20 minutes, the next 10 and so on. Liverpool have to win and the nerves in the stands will transfer to the pitch the longer that wait goes on. That is Spurs’ route to winning this game.
Liverpool will come flying out of the traps and, if they score early, they will win. If they don’t score early they might be in a bit of trouble. Liverpool don’t need all of the front three to be firing to win football matches. Sadio Mane is the man carrying them at the moment. That reliability on one player will be a concern from a Liverpool perspective, especially if they don’t make a good start. If things aren’t going well with 20 minutes to go, who do Liverpool turn to, to bail them out?