In December, Liverpool sent a statement to the rest of the league by beating Tottenham 2-1 thanks to a Roberto Firmino stoppage-time winner.
At the time, the two sides were top of the table. Just over a month later, both find themselves outside of the top four. With Liverpool sitting in fifth and Tottenham in sixth, both sides really need a result if they hope to stay in the title race.
2021 has not been kind to Jurgen Klopp’s side, with Liverpool earning only 1 point in 3 Premier League games. They are yet to score a Premier League goal in the calendar year and have only won one of their last seven matches in all competitions.
Following consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Leicester City in December, Tottenham have seemingly recaptured their form. Jose Mourinho’s side is currently enjoying an 8-game unbeaten streak, most recently beating Wycombe Wanderers 4-1 in the FA Cup.
Thursday’s match at London Stadium carries heavy implications in the title race. With that in mind, here are my bold predictions for the game:
Jose Mourinho decides NOT to park the bus
One of the most enjoyable parts of matchups between top sides is the tactical chess match between the managers.
The two sides boast polar opposite styles, with Liverpool pressing high and Tottenham playing on the counterattack. Mourinho’s conservative tactics in big matches often frustrate the neutral viewer, slowing the pace of the game.
However, I expect Mourinho to look at Liverpool’s defensive frailties as an opportunity to unleash his attack. With Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min forming one of the most formidable partnerships in recent memory, Mourinho should allow his side to press higher up the pitch to support his attackers.
Kane and Son are held scoreless
With Kane and Son supported in the attack, they’ll surely find the back of the net, right?
Despite the aforementioned chemistry between the two, Liverpool actually possess the ability to contain the pair.
Joel Matip’s return should allow Jordan Henderson to play in his natural central midfield role. Both Fabinho and Thiago should be more comfortable playing with more traditional partners alongside them.
Furthermore, Liverpool have actually only given up 6 goals in Matip’s last 9 Premier League starts. Playing with a reliable, natural centre-back makes Liverpool’s defence exponentially less vulnerable.
Tottenham also don’t have the wide threats to attack and pin back Liverpool’s fullbacks the way Manchester United did this past weekend. Therefore, don’t count on Kane and Son lighting up the scoreboard.
Sadio Mane returns to goalscoring form
While criticism of Roberto Firmino has spiralled endlessly this season, Sadio Mane’s form has also taken a hit.
Suggested by many as the league’s best player last season, Mane’s struggles have mirrored Liverpool’s. The Senegalese attacker hasn’t scored in his past four league games.
This is the second time this season he’s endured a scoring drought this lengthy.
Sadio Mane earned a late penalty after a foul from Serge Aurier in a 2-1 win over Tottenham last season.
However, Mane has risen to the occasion against Tottenham in the past. More specifically, Mane has feasted on the defensive weaknesses of Serge Aurier. While the Ivorian has improved, I expect Liverpool to target Aurier in one-on-one situations and for Mane to score on Thursday.
Tottenham’s centre-back pairing shows weakness
Kane and Son earned the praise for Tottenham’s early-season success. However, the vital explanation behind their strong start was the stinginess of their backline.
Tottenham had allowed the fewest goals in the league through December, but holes slowly started to open up. Now, Tottenham sit well behind Manchester City in this regard.
Few reasonably expected Eric Dier, an ageing Toby Alderweireld, and inconsistent Davinson Sanchez to maintain their record.
Now, teams have found different ways to attack the heart of the Tottenham backline.
Despite their unbeaten run, Mourinho’s side has kept a clean sheet in just 1 of their last 7 league matches. With Liverpool finding their goalscoring boots against Manchester United, expect Hugo Lloris to pick the ball out of his net on multiple occasions on Thursday.
Liverpool finally get back on track
Both sides could really use three points to galvanize a title push. Due to recent form, however, Liverpool need a result even more than Tottenham.
Liverpool are in the midst of their worst spell under Jurgen Klopp. Nonetheless, a solid run of form could put them right back at the top of the league.
“The Mentality Monsters” have been known to rise to the occasion when needed most. Despite a difficult away game, expect Liverpool to finally turn the corner and return to winning ways.