Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 23/20
Tottenham Hotspur will be welcoming Liverpool to their stadium in north London on Thursday evening, playing hosts in a game which will be a part of the first round of the second half of the Premier League season; 20th overall. With both these teams considered top candidates for winning the title at different points of the campaign, only to drop down the table afterwards, it could be a very important match for the chances of either to finish top of the league.
Spurs have had a bag of mixed results this season so far. Their last six games in the league include the trip to Anfield, where Liverpool got the better of them through a late header from Roberto Firmino, after strikes from Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min had the score level. Another defeat followed, this time at home, 0-2 at the hands of Leicester City. Then they drew 1-1 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, crushed Leeds United 3-0 at home, drew 1-1 against Fulham at home, and eventually beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last week by 1-3. Their last match overall, however, was a 1-4 triumph away to Championship side Wycombe in the fourth round of the FA Cup, and they’ll be taking on Everton at Goodison Park in the fifth.
At the moment, they are in sixth place in the league table, with one point less than Liverpool in fifth, but with a game in hand on the reigning champions. Nonetheless, they’re eight long points away from current table toppers Manchester City, seven from Manchester United in second, five from Leicester City in third, and two from West Ham United in fourth, though Spurs have two games in hand on the Hammers.
The team from north London is playing in the Europa League this term. They finished the first stage by topping Group J, ahead of Antwerp, LASK and Ludogorets. They will now face Austrian side Wolfsberger AC in the round of 32.
Head coach Jose Mourinho has confirmed the out-of-favour midfielder Dele Alli will miss this match through injury. The Portuguese will also be without Giovani Lo Celso in the middle of the park, while right-back Matt Doherty remains a doubt.
Nonetheless, Mourinho rested a number of regular starters against Wycombe. Tanguy Ndombele and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are set to resume their usual roles in midfield. Steven Bergwijn could get the not ahead of Gareth Bale on the right wing, though the Real Madrid loanee will be pushing for a start as well. Harry Kane and Son are, of course, nailed-on starters upfront, as are Hugo Lloris in goal and Serge Aurier on the right side of defence. Sergio Reguilon should also be in the lineup, though it remains to be seen whether as part of the back four or further up the pitch.
Whatever they do, Liverpool just can’t get things right lately. Following the season-ending injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, they were expected to struggle defensively, but the makeshift back line initially did well. It was the attacking players who struggled for a long time, and before their 3-2 defeat in the FA Cup to Manchester United, the Reds hadn’t scored in four consecutive matches.
Liverpool thrashed Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park 0-7 on December 19th, but afterwards they drew 1-1 at home against West Bromwich Albion and drew 0-0 away to Newcastle. Then they lost 1-0 away to Southampton, drew 0-0 at home against Manchester United, and lost 0-1 at home to Burnley, which ended their remarkable run of 68 league games at Anfield without defeat.
As has been said, Liverpool are in fifth place with 34 points at the moment, one more than Spurs in sixth, one less than West Ham in fourth, four less than Leicester City in third, six less than Manchester United in second, and seven less than Manchester City at the top. The task of defending their title seems a bleak prospect at this point.
In the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp’s team finished top of Group D, ahead of Atalanta, Ajax and Midtjylland, and they’ll be facing RB Leipzig in the round of 16.
With no Van Dijk and no Gomez, midfielder Fabinho has been obliged to step into the centre-back role, and this time he’s expected to line up alongside Joel Matip, who was rested for the Old Trafford trip on Sunday. Alisson Becker will be in goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right defensive flank, and Andy Robertson on the left.
Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum are set to start in midfield. Captain Jordan Henderson is in full training following a slight groin problem, and if he proves fit for 90 minutes, he’ll be there as well. If not, young Curtis Jones is the likeliest candidate to step in, though Jurgen Klopp could opt for more creativity with Xherdan Shaqiri. Roberto Firmino is expected to be flanked by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in attack, with Divock Origi dropping to the bench. Diogo Jota will take a few weeks more to recover from a knee injury.
At first glance, it’s not easy to see Liverpool winning this one, given their recent run of results. But make no mistake, they are still a top team and it’s only a matter of time before they click properly again. If they do on Thursday, Spurs won’t find it easy to contain them.
On the other hand, it could prove another frustrating night for the champions, if they fail to take advantage of chances created (and there will be), or if defensive mistakes prove costly at the other end. There are no safe bets, but Liverpool are the favourites.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 23/20
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