Liverpool host Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday evening, with the result at Anfield crucial in both the title race and top-four battle.
Liverpool vs. Tottenham
Saturday 2nd April 2016, 17:30 (GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Following a two-week international break, the Premier League returns in entertaining fashion on Merseyside this weekend.
Tottenham remain Leicester‘s closest title challengers at the top of the table, but the current five-point gap cannot really afford to get much wider.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have enjoyed a highly impressive campaign, but these last six weeks or so of the season will really test them.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have had to spend a fortnight stewing over that horrendous 3-2 defeat at Southampton, in which they led 2-0 at half-time.
Their top-four chances were looking genuinely strong at the interval at St Mary’s, but they are now seven points adrift of Man City – admittedly with a game in hand.
Realistically, a draw is not particularly good for either team on Saturday – Spurs would probably just about take it – and it should be a fascinating contest between two good footballing sides.
Prior to the aforementioned Martin Skrtel-inspired collapse against Southampton, Liverpool were really beginning to find their feet under Jurgen Klopp.
Three Premier League wins in succession had enhanced their top-four aspirations, and only Leicester had beaten them inside 90 minutes since February.
Having players back fit certainly played a part in the Reds’ improved fortunes, with the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho all looking sharp in the final third of the pitch.
The worry is that the Southampton loss could have a negative impact on the team, killing all the momentum that they had built in the weeks leading up to the game.
This is a very important match in terms of getting back on track, and a failure to leave Anfield with three points in the bag will probably spell the end of their Champions League hopes.
Spurs may have been dumped out of both the Europa League and FA Cup, by Borussia Dortmund and Crystal Palace respectively, but they have been a model of consistency in general.
They have won their last two league games, at home to Bournemouth and away to Aston Villa, although they did have a minor wobble before that.
The 2-2 draw with Arsenal in the north London derby was frustrating, and they also lost 1-0 at West Ham three days earlier.
This is a very different Spurs side to the stereotypical, spineless one of the Premier League era, though, and there is far from steel and quality than in previous times.
Harry Kane and Dele Alli have been sensational together, almost like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres in 2008/09, while the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen have stood out too.
Form Guide (Last 10 games)
The reverse fixture earlier this season was Klopp’s first match in charge of Liverpool, with much delirium from Reds supporters following the German’s appointment.
The visitors got a very credible 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane, especially in hindsight, and Klopp made an immediate impact with his all-energy style of play.
At Anfield last season, Liverpool won a dramatic contest 3-2, with Mario Balotelli scoring the winner with seven minutes remaining. Lazar Markovic and Steven Gerrard were the other Reds goalscorers.
In fact, the Merseysiders have been very much the better team over the last few years, with 3-0 and 5-0 victories registered at White Hart Lane and a 4-0 home triumph helping their title push in 2013/14.
Tottenham‘s last win in the fixture came in November 2012, when early goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon saw them race into a 2-0 lead. Bale’s second-half own goal proved to be nothing more than a consolation in the end.
Spurs have not won at Anfield since a 2-0 triumph in May 2011, when efforts from Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric were the difference between the two teams.
Klopp doesn’t have many injury concerns ahead of the game, particularly in comparison to how riddled the squad was earlier on in the season.
Alberto Moreno is ready to return to the starting lineup after a hamstring injury, while Divock Origi has recovered from an international setback to join full training in time to feature.
Lucas Leiva, Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino remain absent, however, but Coutinho is fit to start after a lengthy trip back from Brazil.
The only long-term absentees are Jordan Rossiter, Joe Gomez and Danny Ings.
Pochettino is in a similar boat to Klopp in that he has a fairly full squad of fit players, although there are still potentially a few key players missing.
First-choice centre-back Alderweireld has been suffering from illness on international duty, but it would be a surprise if he didn’t face Liverpool on Saturday.
Lamela could miss out with muscular injury, while Jan Vertonghen is still out, following a prolonged spell on the sidelines with knee trouble.
Nabil Bentaleb is still out, but like Liverpool, they can’t have too many qualms with their current injury list.
What the Managers Say
Discussing the title race, Klopp said:
“If I were not the manager of Liverpool maybe I could enjoy the stories of Leicester and Tottenham more.
“This is a pretty good year to become champion because a lot of clubs who fight for this title are usually not involved. There is pressure for teams at the top and we will see who handles it better.
“This is the decisive third for Tottenham and if you want to become champion of the Premier League, for Tottenham especially, this year is a good opportunity. “
Pochettino unsurprisingly discussed the meteoric rise of Alli, adding that there is no need to heap unwanted pressure on the 19-year-old:
Am I worried about the hype? No, you can see the whole season how he has managed the pressure. He is very calm, very mature.
He has managed the pressure and the popularity and how to be a senior player and play for the national team. He is very calm.
Now he is fresh, at a good level, he has a good mentality. He is mature enough. We have no worries about his future.
Odds & TV Info
This is a very tricky game to predict, and the odds reflect that.
Liverpool are the narrow favourites to seal a home win at 8/5, while Spurs are 19/10 to strengthen their title challenge. The draw is 12/5, which looks a good bet.
Kane’s pedigree is highlighted by the fact that he is the 9/2 favourite to score first at Anfield, despite being in the visiting line-up.
Sturridge is 5/1 to give the Reds the lead, while Coutinho and Alli, the creative inspiration for either side, are 15/2 and 8/1, respectively.
The game feels as though it will have goals in it, even though both teams are well-drilled, so backing both sides to score at 7/10 makes sense.
The match is live on Sky Sports 1 (UK) from 5pm, with kick-off at 5:30pm BST.