The Big Match

Football: Rapid about-turn by Spurs and Reds

As they meet, it is with Mauricio Pochettino's (left) team, Tottenham, in form and Jurgen Klopp's side, Liverpool, very much out of it.
As they meet, it is with Mauricio Pochettino's (left) team, Tottenham, in form and Jurgen Klopp's side, Liverpool, very much out of it.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

While the visitors are on fire and hosts in the dumps, recent games point to another draw

The role reversal has been swift. When 2016 ended, Liverpool were second and Tottenham fifth in the English Premier League table.

Six weeks later, Spurs are Chelsea's nearest rivals and the Merseysiders are out of the top four. As they meet, it is with Mauricio Pochettino's team in form and Jurgen Klopp's side very much out of it.

Harry Kane has pinpointed this as a chance to go seven points ahead of Liverpool. Already out of the title race, Klopp's men could then face an uphill task even to finish ahead of Spurs.

As Liverpool's sole win in a sorry start to 2017 came against a League Two club, Plymouth, and as Tottenham have won nine of their last 11 games, Spurs may start as favourites.

Except for two factors. All three league meetings between them in the Klopp-Pochettino era have been draws, featuring players primed to press and running around with great urgency but not always displaying enough craft.

And even as their results have nosedived against everyone else this year, Liverpool have held Manchester United and Chelsea in fine displays, extending their unbeaten record against the top six this season.

Whereas minnows come to Anfield purely to defend, Tottenham should be more progressive. That is how Liverpool like it. That allows them to spring counter-attacks.

It will also be instructive to see if the combination of Klopp's anger at their first-half performance in the 0-2 loss at Hull last Saturday and a first midweek without a game since Christmas brings back the sharpness and desire they showed in autumn.

What the last few weeks have shown is that when Liverpool lack that physical edge and when their creative players fail to gel, they can look distinctly mediocre.

Spurs had a similar run in October and November. Now, with Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Kane fit and firing again, they seem to be a team transformed.

Liverpool must look to their own Anfield trio to spark a similar improvement. As it is, Philippe Coutinho has not scored in 10 games, Roberto Firmino has failed to find the net in nine of his last 10 appearances and Adam Lallana has neither a goal nor an assist in 2017.

Yet after a spell when much has gone wrong, they could also do with rediscovering defensive solidity. Perhaps Klopp will drop goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, after two mistakes in as many games. He should be able to pair centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, who have never lost a league game both have started.

If that shows the scale of Spurs' task, so does another statistic. Much as they have improved under Pochettino, they have won only one of 14 league games away against the current top six.

Four such matches this season have brought them just two points. The signs may point to Klopp and Pochettino cancelling each other out again.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Rapid about-turn by Spurs and Reds'. Print Edition | Subscribe