The Big Match

Back where Klopp began

German's Reds still seek consistency as they face Spurs' equally ferocious pressing game

Besides inconsistent results throughout his tenure, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has also not settled upon his strongest side, with players still to return from injury.
Besides inconsistent results throughout his tenure, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has also not settled upon his strongest side, with players still to return from injury.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jurgen Klopp is back where he began. His first Liverpool game came at White Hart Lane. Ten months after that 0-0 draw, he returns to north London.

There is no doubt that Tottenham, following their surprise title challenge last Premier League season, have progressed since then. Last week's defeat by Burnley prompted questions if Liverpool have done likewise.

Inconsistency was a recurring theme of Klopp's first campaign in charge. Liverpool have already offered a microcosm of that, with another thrilling away win marked by high-speed potency - 4-3 at Arsenal - and another tame defeat on their travels, 2-0 at Burnley.

It brought back memories of last season's triumphs at Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton and setbacks at Newcastle and Watford. That may suggest that Tottenham, as elite opponents, are precisely the sort of team against whom Liverpool raise their game.

As they have never lost consecutive league matches under Klopp, they need to.

Yet, of all of the contenders, Spurs seem the least likely to lose to them. Rather than being overwhelmed by Klopp's ferocious "gegenpressing" tactic, they adopt the same game plan.

  • D-D

    Jurgen Klopp's record of two stalemates against Tottenham, who were his first opponents in a 0-0 draw on Oct 17, 2015. The reverse at Anfield went 1-1.

They will not find it, or the personnel, unfamiliar. Mauricio Pochettino managed Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne at Southampton.

Spurs' start to the season has been unspectacular, but their defence, the joint most frugal last season, has been breached only once. Liverpool have already conceded five times.

Pochettino has a greater grasp on his strongest side. His sole dilemma is whether to restore Dele Alli to the side, which would involve striker Vincent Janssen dropping out and Harry Kane leading the line.

In contrast, Klopp seems in more of an experimental phase.

The ploy of reinventing Jordan Henderson as his deepest midfielder negates the captain's greatest asset, his energy. Emre Can is a more natural fit, but a fitness doubt.

The three-way battle to be the attacking spearhead continues. The false nine Roberto Firmino has been Klopp's preferred choice so far, but Divock Origi offers the potential to stretch defences further.

Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, is vocal about his unhappiness about starting as a right winger. If, as seems likely, he is relegated to the bench today, he will scarcely be more content.

Yet the definitive conclusion from Turf Moor, where Liverpool had 81 per cent of possession but no penetration, is that Sadio Mane, injured then, must start.

He offers blistering pace in a game that should be played at speed.

Two sides who each like to counter-attack, who pride themselves on regaining possession as soon as possible after losing it, who are superbly fit and conform to a team ethic, can seem mirror images of each other.

It explains why they drew twice last season. Yet both this fixture and Liverpool's recent past have contained many a spectacular scoreline. Another is not impossible.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Back where Klopp began'. Subscribe