Sunday sees the first big test of Mauricio Pochettino’s new look side, as Spurs welcome Liverpool to White Hart Lane. The equivalent fixture last season saw a humiliating 5-0 thrashing, which marked the end of Andre Villas-Boas’ short tenure.
Last weekend’s league win gave us our first glimpse of the style of football Pochettino aspires to. High pressing, quick counter attacks, one touch passing – at times it looked like the players’ movements had been choreographed. The one big caveat? It was only QPR.
If there was one criticism of Pochettino’s Southampton last season, it was that they were flat track bullies. Fantastic at dispatching the poorer sides, but found out against the big boys. Aggressive pressing and a high line can be very effective but everything comes at a cost. Committing players forward leaves holes, holes that a skilful opponent can exploit.
Will Pochettino adjust his approach against Liverpool?
Liverpool were the surprise package of last season, mounting a title challenge that only faltered at the last. They benefited from a young progressive manager, with a clear idea about how he wanted his team to play. When Daniel Levy appointed Pochettino it was probably with half an eye on the success at Anfield.
Rodgers may have lost his star striker but unlike Tottenham after Bale’s departure, Liverpool have the foundations in place to cope. Initially their summer transfers had been sensible, if a little prosaic. Then along came Mario. It will be interesting to see if the charismatic striker turns out to be a gamble worth taking.
So far Rodgers has played 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in the league. He may return to a 4-4-2 diamond to accommodate Balotelli.
Liverpool employ a system similar to Pochettino’s. Lots of pressing – they led the league in tackles last year – and quick counter attacks. It was no surprise that Rodgers took advantage of the Southampton fire sale. Lallana, Lambert and Lovren should fit nicely into his team.
The Liverpool manager’s success last year was built on making his team more direct, but this didn’t come at the expense of his principals. They still finished fifth for possession, and fourth for short passes and pass success.
Suarez may have gone but scoring goals was never really Liverpool’s problem. There are still plenty of dangermen in the Liverpool team. Sterling ran Tottenham’s defence ragged last year, Sturridge scored plenty of goals, while Coutinho’s clever passing should help unlock opposition defences.
Much of Liverpool’s play goes through Steven Gerrard, who now acts as a deep lying playmaker. This role has allowed him to make use of his passing abilities despite his declining mobility. Spurs’ pressing should target the former England captain, both to stop Liverpool’s supply and as a potential weak point.
Perhaps surprisingly after last years two heavy defeats, Tottenham are slight favourites at 2.72, Liverpool are just behind at 2.78, with the draw at 3.55
Players rested in Spurs excellent midweek victory over AEL Limassol should be fit to return. Soldado is an injury doubt with a back problem. Walker is likely to be still unavailable with his recurring hip injury.
For Liverpool, Lallana is close to fitness after a prolonged break and could feature. Fullbacks, Glen Johnson and Alberto Moreno face late fitness tests.
I would be tempted to leave the team unchanged after such an impressive victory.
Hopefully, Rose’s pace should match up well against Sterling.
Liverpool’s weakness is their defence, particularly out wide. Hopefully Chadli and Lamela can repeat their form from last week.
Capoue and Bentaleb worked well as a defensive midfield pairing. This game will be a much bigger test but I think they are up to it.
Fazio could replace Kaboul but he probably needs some time to acclimatise after his arrival from Sevilla earlier this week.
Prediction: Spurs 2 Liverpool 1
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