Liverpool will face one of the toughest tests in their title challenge this weekend when they welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield on Sunday afternoon. While currently top of the league, Jurgen Klopp's side will likely have to beat Spurs to regain first place as rivals Manchester City have a highly winnable game against relegation-threatened Fulham on Saturday.
Fortunately for Liverpool, the managerial head-to-head statistics favour Klopp. When Mauricio Pochettino has been in the opposition dugout, the German has lost just one of eight games – a 4-1 drubbing at Wembley in the early stages of last season. However, the other seven clashes between the two renowned coaches have seen four draws and three wins for Klopp's men.
Matches between the two teams are generally tight, tactical affairs. Both like to apply pressure and get a lot of success from their defensive intensity, quick counter-attacking and exceptional crossing from out wide.
Here we at Tribal Football break down what Liverpool must do to come out on top of another intriguing tussle with Tottenham and avoid losing ground in the title race.
HIGH FULL-BACKS TO STRETCH SPURS' BACK LINE
Tottenham are one of the most tactically versatile teams in the English top flight, and a lot of what Liverpool can do to win on Sunday depends on how their opposition choose to line up. Most of the signs point to Pochettino picking something like a 4-3-1-2 shape – not only is this is Spurs' most used system this season, but it's what they opted for in their last league match prior to the international break, as well as when they last met Liverpool.
Klopp very rarely makes such drastic tactical changes to his side's formation, so his favoured 4-3-3 is likely to be chosen once again this time around. One of the keys to victory in this particular clash, however, will be the behaviour of his full-backs within the 4-3-3 setup.
Trent Alexander-Arnold may not make it due to injury, meaning James Milner could be shuffled to right-back. Andrew Robertson will, as ever, start on the left. Both players are good crossers of the ball and possess plenty of energy, and both qualities will come in handy against Tottenham.
By taking up advanced attacking positions down their respective flanks, both Milner and Robertson can look to draw out Spurs' full-backs and stretch their defensive line. This could create space in the central channels, which could be exploited by Liverpool's front three.
MANE'S THE MAN
In previous seasons, much of the credit for Liverpool's attacking potency has fallen to Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. The former has thrilled with his pace and outstanding scoring record, hitting just under one goal per league outing in his debut campaign at Anfield, while the latter has garnered praise for his all-round role, dropping deep to link attacks and instigating pressing.
This term, though, Sadio Mane has earned most of the praise, and rightly so. The Senegalese forward has added efficacy in the final third to his superlative work ethic and attacking ability on and off the ball, scoring 11 goals in his last 11 games. On top of that, within Liverpool's squad he is second only to Salah in dribbles per game and averages a solid 1.1 key passes, per WhoScored.
If Robertson can get forward down the left flank and drag out Kieran Trippier, the in-form Mane will be primed and ready to take advantage of space afforded to him in the left inside channel.
DIRECTNESS COULD PAY DIVIDENDS
Liverpool aren't averse to a long ball every now and then. Indeed, while only Manchester City and Chelsea have averaged more possession and short passes per game than them this season, Klopp's side are one of the more direct top six teams, playing more long passes on average than City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
These long balls aren't aimless. Usually they involve switching the play towards the far side for one of the forward's runs, and they are executed by technically astute players such as Virgil van Dijk or Fabinho. These plays could be perfect for getting in behind a Tottenham defence that tends to include at least one relatively slow centre-back in Jan Vertonghen – the Belgian up against Salah in a foot race isn't a fair fight.
There are other benefits to this directness, as well. Tottenham love to press high, and they can often suffocate opponents in their build-up, winning the ball in the attacking third and countering from there. German giants Borussia Dortmund suffered a painful 3-0 defeat at Wembley recently in the main because of their inability to play out against their hosts' pressure. By going long and over the top of Spurs, Liverpool could effectively nullify perhaps the biggest threat they face on Sunday by completely bypassing the high press of Harry Kane and Co.
PRESSURE A LESS RESISTANT MIDFIELD
Like their upcoming opponents, a key piece in Liverpool's strategy is their pressing. While they do not always press high, they do press extremely efficiently, making even the most organised build-ups quiver. Their front three stay fairly compact, with the wide men positioned in the inside channels on roughly the same line as Firmino rather than dropping back to track the full-backs. This structure helps them to threaten or intercept any passes made by the opposition into midfield.
Tottenham like to mix it up a little, though they do try to build out from the back fairly frequently. However, one major issue for them in this pursuit is the lack of press resistant midfielders – with Mousa Dembele gone and Eric Dier injured, Pochettino may be forced to start the more defensive-minded, less adventurous Victor Wanyama at the base of his midfield on Sunday.
This selection should only encourage Liverpool to be at their most aggressive when pressing Tottenham when they move the ball into the middle third. By targeting a weaker-than-usual Spurs midfield, Klopp's men could force turnovers high and make good use of Salah and Mane's speed in attacking transition.