Liverpool vs Tottenham: What will and won't happen
The pressing World Cup. With lots of new world champion England players on show.
There was a time when an April clash between the Scouse and Cockney tap dancers was nothing but an exercise in preparing for the following season amid impassioned pleas for next season to be different. Not this year.
Spurs’s motivation is obvious. They have a poor recent record against Liverpool – they last beat the Reds in November 2012 thanks to goals from Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale – and have title ambitions to develop.
With Arsenal's usual March collapse safely completed, it seems like a straight two-way dogfight with Leicester for Premier League glory. Spurs sit six points behind the indomitable Foxes, but will put serious pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s men with a win on Saturday evening. The league leaders, meanwhile, await Southampton on Sunday.
Yet Jurgen Klopp’s Merseysiders also have plenty to play for – and not just to spoil Spurs’ title chances. With 10 days to go until the mammoth Europa League quarter-final with Borussia Dortmund, competition for places against Klopp’s former flame is high at Anfield.
Plus, it won’t have escaped the squad’s radar that Mario Gotze, Jonas Hector and other (mainly German) recruits are being linked with summer moves to Merseyside. Playing for their places – especially after turning a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 defeat at Southampton last time out – and futures, then.
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Saturday’s clash is also a chance to see how England may fare at this summer’s Euro 2016. Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool; Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane all have legitimate claims to make Roy Hodgson’s squad.
The game’s biggest feature will be how Klopp and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will demand total conviction to press the opposition
A soufflé of crowbars, current FourFourTwo cover star Alli is a phenomenon, his partnership with Kane critical to Spurs and England’s silverware hunt over the next couple of months. Though Liverpool don’t have the same English star names, Lallana is quietly having a very strong final third of the season ahead of the consistent Clyne.
The game’s biggest feature will be how Klopp and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will demand total conviction to press the opposition. With all the English quality on show, plus a sprinkling of foreign talent, you would expect this to resemble a basketball match, rather than a football one.
Philippe Coutinho's 6,000-mile round trip on international duty may see the Brazilian schemer primed for some bench duty.
Alberto Moreno should return from injury at left-back, but Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke and Divock Origi are all doubts further forward (though the latter should make the squad), meaning Daniel Sturridge should start. Midfielder Lucas Leiva is still a week from full fitness.
Toby Alderweireld trained on Wednesday and Thursday after missing Belgium’s midweek trip to Portugal with a stomach bug and should be fit, but the Anfield game will probably be a week too soon for his compatriot Jan Vertonghen.
Erik Lamela, meanwhile, has returned from Argentina duty with a hamstring niggle and will most likely miss out.
Key battle: Jordan Henderson vs Dele Alli
If Alli can find space, or extricate himself from tight spots like he did against Germany, he could turn this game in Spurs’ favour
A battle of the English midfielders will go a long way to deciding this contest. Liverpool badly missed Henderson in the second-half capitulation against Southampton, for his leadership as much as anything.
The Reds are a brilliant first-half team, but tire. Though Henderson seldom lasts 90 minutes, his calm head would surely have prevented the Sadio Mane chicken from being left to demolish the coop.
Alli has been the season’s revelation and is developing into a genuine No.10 of real quality. If he can find space, or extricate himself from tight spots like he did against Germany on international duty, the former MK Dons man could turn this game in Spurs’ favour.
What won’t happen
Seeing lazy, lethargic players. You get the impression both Klopp and Pochettino may have their charges linked up to electric shock machines, just in case they need buzzing into life.
Oh, or Pochettino to look anything less than immaculately dressed.
What will happen
A pulsating, never-say-die thrill-fest full of goalmouth action and non-stop running in a 1-1 draw.