THE KLOPP FACTOR
After all the hype and all the excitement, the first test of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool management comes at White Hart Lane. On this game, early verdicts will be drawn on whether the Klopptimism is justified. Which, in reality, is absurd. Klopp will have had the players together in training for two days, no time at all to impose any kind of tactical change.
His Gegenpressing is something that will take time to instil – and a half-imposed system may end up being more confusing than sticking with something simpler and closer to what Brendan Rodgers left behind. If Liverpool do enjoy any sort of lift on Saturday, it will be as a result of Klopp’s personality and charisma – and perhaps a sense of relief that the drift of late-period Rodgers – is over.
Klopp’s first week at Melwood brought the news that both Joe Gomez and Danny Ings will be out for the season with cruciate ligament injuries. That’s terrible news for them, obviously, and it deprives Klopp of cover on the left and in attack, but the probability was that he would start with the more naturally attacking Alberto Moreno at left-back anyway. Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino have also been ruled out by their new manager with much less serious injuries, and there is a slight question mark also over Philippe Coutinho who was forced to pull out of the Brazil squad for the World Cup qualifiers with a knock. Jordan Henderson is definitely out with his foot injury.
Tottenham have problems in central midfield, with Eric Dier suspended and Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason both injured. Son Heung-min is also a doubt, while Danny Rose has a hand injury.
Tottenham are just a point ahead of Liverpool in the table, and yet the perceptions of their starts to the season are very different. While it felt as though Liverpool were stagnating, the general view of Tottenham was that they are slowly coming into form, dominating games but failing to win them because of a lack of goalscoring edge, in part caused by the injury to Christian Eriksen and in part by Harry Kane’s dry spell.
Spurs lie eighth, unbeaten in seven, the draw against Swansea a fortnight ago following three straight wins; Liverpool have won only one of their last six.
The Reds have won their last five in the league against Spurs, a run that includes a 3-0 win at White Hart Lane last season and a 5-0 win the season before. It is debatable how much can be gleaned form that 3-0 last year, though: it was on the second weekend of the season and came at a time when it looked as though Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge could form a devastating strike partnership.
It’s fair to assume Klopp will start with a 4-2-3-1, the formation he used habitually at Borussia Dortmund, but who he picks should offer clues as to how he views this Liverpool squad. Injuries, to an extent, condition his choices.
With Benteke out, Sturridge is an automatic pick at centre-forward with Coutinho behind him, if the Brazilian is fit. Henderson’s absence means the back of midfield is likely to be Emre Can and James Milner, although he could opt for the more cautious and less mobile option of Lucas Leiva, which may mean Milner moving wide.
Otherwise in the wide areas it’s likely to be Jordan Ibe on one flank and Adam Lallana on the other – even though Lallana, with his lack of dynamism, doesn’t seem a Klopp-type player.
THE MIDFIELD BATTLE
Tottenham’s wide men – two of Son, if fit, Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela – could cause major problems behind Liverpool’s fullbacks if they overcommit, but it may be that Spurs find themselves dominated in the centre, where injuries could force them to field Mousa Dembele alongside Deli Alli.
The paradox of that is that the more control Liverpool have in the centre, the greater the possibility that their full-backs get caught up field.
Liverpool are 2.90 to win which feels short for a side that has won only one game away from home all season. The suspicion is that the expectation of a Klopp bounce may be overblown.
Set against that are Tottenham’s problems in midfield but, still, 2.40 looks long for them to win at home given their last home fixture brought a 4-1 victory over the league leaders Manchester City and, with Klopp’s impact still uncertain, that is probably the way to go.
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