Reds’ defensive woes could be ripe for Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur versus Liverpool is a must-watch clash on SBS on Saturday and we take a look at how the two Premier League giants are shaping up in the lead-up to this huge match.

Liverpool v Tottenham

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Take a quick glance at the Premier League table. Go on, Liverpool and Spurs fans, I dare you. 

Three of the top four places are taken by the clubs who disappointed so deeply last year: Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. 

Their respective summers of spending, particularly in the dugout, has reaped instant rewards. Two games, two wins for each. 

Believe it or not, it’s already a gap on the rest. Even if, for the moment, it’s only a psychological one. There’s still 118 points up for grabs for every other team. 

Neither Tottenham nor Liverpool are that far back. Spurs have opened well enough - an away draw against Everton and a win over Crystal Palace. It’s been as solid, steady start. 

Liverpool’s first two games couldn’t have been more different. The spine-tingling win over Arsenal at the Emirates showcased why they rate themselves as title contenders. 

Then the 2-0 loss to Burnley seemed to outline, in the starkest terms, every reason why they are not. 

The Clarets applied the oldest of old-school tactics. Move it fast, direct, hit the channels and stick it in the mixer. 

Of course, we all prefer the elegant manoeuvrings of Barcelona and Arsenal, but one cannot deny that a blunt instrument can do as much damage as a sharp implement if swung with sufficient force. 

Liverpool’s defence could not cope with the battering ram-effect of Sam Vokes. Andre Gray and George Boyd were on hand to win second balls, or to charge at the defence themselves. 

Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino is one of the Premier League’s smartest managers and will have noted all of this. I doubt very much that Tottenham will play quite as simply as Burnley, but the lesson of Liverpool crumbling under pressure will be noted. 

Conceding five in two matches will have Jurgen Klopp rubbing his spectacles. Sure, both goals last week had an element of individual skill, but terrible marking and even worse positioning cost them dearly. 

Surely the experiment of James Milner at left-back is a once-off. Let’s be honest - Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan are no world-beaters, and the quicker Alberto Moreno is reinstated, the better. Simon Mignolet also has his doubters. 

Yes, Moreno had a shocker against Arsenal. But even the best have bad days and the longer he is kept out of the side, the most the confidence of the Spaniard will wane. It will be a test of Klopp to nurse him back to full form. 

In addition to all that, ex-Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp is concerned about the midfield’s failure to cover the back four. 

“Without that player protecting the defence you end up with the kind of 'shock' results we've seen Liverpool experience. The defeat at Burnley, last season's losses to Watford and Newcastle,” he told Sky Sports. “At times they're breath-taking going forward. But the balance doesn't seem right between defence and attack. 

“And when the game changes or a goal goes in, they find it very difficult to adapt. They don't have the capability to see a game out. Their only form of defence is attack.” 

Over the past 15 years, Liverpool could call upon Dietmar Hamann, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano and even Steven Gerrard ended up playing deeper in his latter years. Serious players, ones you could build a team around. 

Now it’s Emre Can (struggling with a back problem), Lucas Levia (set to be sold in the next week), Jordan Henderson (not his natural position) or Kevin Stewart (less than 10 top flight games to his name). Not quite the same calibre. 

But as Klopp says he won’t be buying anyone in the transfer window, that’s the lot he’s stuck with. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence - not least against a Spurs line-up replete with attacking talent: Harry Kane, Vincent Janssen, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. There’s no room for Son Heung-min, set to be sold to Wolfsburg. 

Perhaps Liverpool’s attack will, as Redknapp suggests, be capable of firing Liverpool out of trouble now and again. But the rearguard looms as the real problem over what already shapes as a long season.

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4 min read
Published 26 August 2016 at 4:44pm
By Sebastian Hassett