After struggling for a multitude of reasons, to get their season on track, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur seem to have revitalised their Premier League campaign of late and when they clash on Sunday at Anfield, one can be certain that the contest will be a goal-fest.
Spurs thrashed Liverpool 4-1 at Wembley earlier in the season and Jurgen Klopp’s men will be smarting from that result, eager to exact revenge as they bid to reach the top-four.
Just two points and two places separate them and while Liverpool did return to winning ways in mid-week, the form team in this encounter are, without a doubt, Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men humbled the mighty Manchester United on Wednesday and will be buzzing after that result, but if there’s anything one can expect from Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, is that games involving them are rarely routine.
The Statesman takes a look at the five players who are expected to be at a forefront of the proceedings on Sunday.
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
To say Virgil van Dijk’s Liverpool career has gotten off to an eventful start would be an understatement.
Scoring the winner on his debut against Merseyside rivals Everton in the FA Cup gave the long-suffering Reds faithful hope that their next defensive leader had finally arrived but losses to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup) quickly deflated the initial optimism that had been swirling around Anfield.
Not necessarily the Dutchman’s fault, but the fact that he’s the world’s most expensive defender will continue to bring up his price tag (£75 million) each time Liverpool’s defensive inadequacies are exposed.
The Reds did recover in mid-week to thump Huddersfield Town away, but VVD was missing from that game as Jurgen Klopp opted to give him a rest.
The 26-year-old is expected to slot back in the line-up for Sunday’s game, but the fact that neither of Liverpool’s custodians (Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet) inspire confidence in their defence will be a pressing concern for the hosts.
Harry Kane, as expected, will be leading the charge for the visitors and van Dijk will know the striker doesn’t need any gifts to score.
Neither player shies away from a physical battle but for once brawn will not win this clash and the Dutchman will have to be on his toes if he’s to keep the Spurs front-man quiet.
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Long have Liverpool fans been waiting for Jordan Henderson to fill Steven Gerrard’s shoes.
An onerous task, but one the Englishman was seemingly well-equipped for not so long ago.
Fast forward to 2018 and the past few seasons have seen the 27-year-old struggle with a plethora of injuries, curtailing his development.
He’s not a prospect anymore and while nobody is doubting his graft, question marks about his fitness will continue to dog him until he completes a top-flight season without an elongated period of absence.
So far, Henderson has started 20 games (all competitions) for Klopp’s men this season, an encouraging sign that the former Sunderland man is ready to put his injury woes behind him for good.
However, with this clash potentially a play-off for the top-four, the Reds need a standout performance from their skipper and it won’t be easy, for the likes of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier may not be the flashiest central midfield pairing, but they certainly get the job done.
Protecting Liverpool’s suspect defence while spraying the ball forward for their in-form forwards will what Henderson will look to do without much fuss and without meaning to sounding too cliched, but the midfield battle could settle the tie.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Last season, Mane was one of Liverpool’s shining lights.
This time around, the likes of Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have comfortably put him the shade.
Mane’s offensive stats (nine goals and six assists in 22 starts) aren’t bad, but aren’t great either. A player of his calibre should be consistent and sadly, the Senegalese has been anything but.
Without a goal in his last three games, the 25-year-old is under pressure to deliver as Liverpool look to make light of Philippe Coutinho’s departure.
Mane is not a like-for-like replacement, far from it, but the collective burden must be shouldered by every member of Liverpool’s forwards and the former Southampton winger has certainly not been pulling his weight.
Serge Aurier will be tasked with keeping a tab on him and the contest between the two Africans will be a delight for neutrals. Neither of them is lacking in pace and more often than not, win their respective physical tussles on the wing.
Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
It’s been a strange season for Danny Rose, for despite making some ill-advised comments about his employers, the fullback has remained a Lilywhites player but injuries have seriously hampered his playing time.
The pacey 27-year-old is still, without any disrespect to the hardworking Ben Davies, Spurs’ best left-back and is primed to start for their visit to Anfield.
On his flank will be a player who hasn’t been too shabby this season— Mohamed Salah— and Rose will try to prevent the free-scoring Egyptian from cutting in onto his favoured left foot too often.
Speed wise the two are evenly matched and while Rose has the edge in the physical department, Salah is a player you would underestimate at your own risk.
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
Much has been made of Dele Alli’s ‘slump’ this season, but has the precocious midfielder truly been that poor?
A total of nine goals and 10 assists is not a poor record to have for a 21-year-old, but after his barnstorming performances last season, the bar was raised and expectations heightened to dizzying levels.
With Lucas Moura’s arrival, the competition for places just got more intense and while this is not to disparage Alli, the Brazilian’s sheer pace makes him better suited to start on the wing, at least in the long run.
Alli clearly still has the trust of Pochettino, but the 6’2 midfielder (who has scored just once in 2018) will have to churn out a special performance against their direct rivals as they look to maintain their charge to finish in the top-four.
Too often the burden of scoring has been lumped on Harry Kane and the likes of Christian Eriksen and Alli need to stand up and be counted for in a mammoth tie such as this.
Considering Liverpool don’t have the best defence in the league, far from it in fact, All and Co. will have no excuses if they fail to find the back of the net on Sunday.