Don’t fall into Jose Mourinho’s trap, start Jordan Henderson in midfield, protect Trent Alexander-Arnold and focus on set-pieces… How Jurgen Klopp can finally deliver Liverpool’s first Premier League win of the year against Tottenham tonight
- Tottenham host Liverpool in the Premier League tonight at 8pm
- Liverpool haven’t won in five league matches and haven’t scored in three
- Sportsmail looks at what Jurgen Klopp needs to do tactically to win
- Midfield selection is key with captain Jordan Henderson available
How quickly things can change in football. When Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-1 at Anfield last month, they moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League and were odds-on to retain the title.
Just six weeks later, Liverpool head into the return fixture at Spurs seven points off the top, knowing defeat would leave them in sixth place and below West Ham after 20 matches. Jurgen Klopp’s side have not yet scored in the Premier League this year, are goalless in four league matches in all and winless in five, while their only win of 2021 came in the FA Cup against an Aston Villa youth team.
To make matters worse, Klopp faces a fired-up Jose Mourinho, who has used his press conference this week to start mind games with his opposite number as he senses a scalp.
Jose Mourinho (left) confronts Jurgen Klopp (right) after Liverpool beat Spurs in December
Klopp congratulates Firmino after he scored Liverpool’s winner against Tottenham
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Liverpool. They still have a squad the envy of most clubs in the world even with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, and a win at Spurs could kickstart their title bid. So how does Klopp go about turning around his side’s fortunes in north London? Here, Sportsmail takes a look…
START HENDERSON IN MIDFIELD
If Jordan Henderson is passed fit amid an ongoing hip issue, Klopp must start him in midfield if he wants to win this game. The stats speak for themselves. Due to injuries to Joel Matip and himself, Liverpool’s captain has only started in midfield once this year. That was their only win of 2021 against Aston Villa – albeit a youth team.
Thiago is arguably the bast passer in world football, though his defensive capablities are not up there with those of Henderson or Fabinho, meaning that when he is employed at the base of Klopp’s three-man midfield, Liverpool are more vulnerable defensively.
By using Thiago on the left of the three, Klopp can still harness his potential to unlock Spurs’ defence, while in Henderson he has a player far more capable of dealing with Harry Kane when he drops deep to pick up the ball and looks to feed in Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn.
Were everyone fit, Klopp’s first-choice midfield three would probably be Henderson and Thiago either side of Fabinho – though the Brazilian’s services are required at the back with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out. Even if Matip is not fit to face Spurs, however, Klopp should resist the temptation to play Henderson at the back and play either Nat Phillips or Rhys Williams alongside Fabinho.
Against Mourinho’s Spurs, the man patrolling the area in front of the central defenders is more important than the defenders themselves. Henderson should be that man.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has returned to fitness and is available to start at Spurs
DON’T FALL INTO MOURINHO’S TRAP
Mourinho wants Liverpool to attack Spurs. He wants to sit back and hit them on the counter attack. He wants his midfielders to sit deep and create an impenetrable wall for Liverpool to try and knock down. He wants those midfielders, on the few times they get the ball, to feed in Kane, who will drop deep to pick it up. He then wants Kane to turn and play in the on-rushing Son, with Bergwijn and others in support.
It does not take a genius to work out Mourinho’s gameplan. He executed it to perfection at home to Manchester City and Arsenal and will no doubt try the same against Liverpool, giving Son half the pitch to sprint into up against a makeshift defence. So, how does Klopp stop that?
Well, he can play Spurs at their own game. Before everyone began to sit back against them, Klopp’s Liverpool achieved their success hitting teams on the break, with Roberto Firmino dropping deep and feeding the pace of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. Liverpool weren’t always trying to break down banks of defenders and midfielders on the edge of the box.
While it is unrealistic to expect Klopp not to attack Spurs and for Liverpool not to dominate possession he could, at times, allow Mourinho’s team to have the ball and move up the pitch. Liverpool’s front three will always press like mad, but a more wary midfield could hold their positions more than we are used to seeing under Klopp, then be in the perfect position to counter Tottenham themselves.
Turning the match into Liverpool’s attack v Tottenham’s counter-attack is a dangerous game to play for Klopp, and he could instead prey on Spurs’ added desire to win the game given that they are a home – especially later in the match.
Harry Kane (left) and Son Heung-min (right) are Tottenham’s biggest threat
Just as Henderson should be at the base of Liverpool’s midfield to keep an eye on Kane, Klopp needs to pick a midfielder on the right of his three who can help Trent Alexander-Arnold out in watching dangerman Son.
Ordinarily, this would be Henderson’s role, were Fabinho able to play in the centre of midfield, but if Henderson plays in the middle then Klopp has an important selection dilemma to solve.
He has no fewer than six options for the third midfield slot, and who he picks there could decide the outcome of the match. The most attacking option, and one that would certainly suggest Klopp is not planning to let Spurs come on to his team, would be Xherdan Shaqiri, who has enjoyed a run in the team of late. Though hard-workers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Naby Keita would also be attacking options in the position.
That leaves Klopp’s trusted lieutenants Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner. Wijnaldum rarely misses a big game for Liverpool and his defensive nous and energy are exactly what Liverpool need to help snuff out the threat of Son.
Trent Alexander-Arnold will be attacked by Son down Liverpool’s right-hand side
TEST SPURS’ UNSETTLED DEFENCE
Tottenham have the second-best defence in the Premier League, but in this unpredictable season, that still means their defence is far from the finished article, with 17 goals conceded in 18 matches.
Eric Dier is one of the first names on the teamsheet for Mourinho, but none of Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez or Joe Rodon have nailed down the slot alongside him, meaning there is uncertainty to be exposed whoever is selected. First-choice left back Sergio Reguilon is injured too, with Ben Davies likely to feature if he passes a fitness test.
Spurs went with a back three last time out against Sheffield United, with Davies and Rodon either side of Dier, but are expected to return to a four against Liverpool. Whatever the formation and personnel, Liverpool can pose questions by playing balls in between the centre backs and the full backs.
Eric Dier (left) is the only regular fixture in the heart of Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham defence
FOCUS ON SET-PIECES
Tottenham have only conceded five goals from open play this season, meaning that even with all of Liverpool’s attacking flair and some uncertainty over Mourinho’s selection, they are going to be very hard to break down.
Spurs have, however, conceded six goals from set-pieces in the Premier League, including Firmino’s late winner at Anfield last month. In what could be a cagey game of attack v defence, Alexander-Arnold’s delivery and the aerial threats of Firmino, Matip, Fabinho may be Klopp’s best chance of picking up his first league win of the year.
Firmino heads home Liverpool’s winner when the two sides met at Anfield last month
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