Tottenham vs. Liverpool: Key Battles to Watch for in Premier League Clash
The Reds lost 3-1 to champions Manchester City last Monday night but remain a fearsome prospect for a Tottenham team they comfortably beat twice last season.
The playing staffs at both clubs have changed somewhat since then, while, of course, Spurs have a new head coach, Mauricio Pochettino in place too. But as both teams look to progress at this early stage of the season, they are still characterised by their previous exploits.
Liverpool are reinvigorated under Brendan Rodgers and at the very least looking to sustain their return to prominence in English football. Their north London opponents are desperate to prove the gap between them and the top four has not irretrievably widened after last year's humblings.
Against this backdrop, Sunday's match has the potential to be a hugely entertaining affair. Ahead of the game, we look at where the key battles could take place between these two ambitious teams.
Bentaleb vs. Henderson
Steven Gerrard's injury forced the Liverpool captain to miss the Premier League clash at White Hart Lane on 15th December, 2013, allowing Henderson to take his opportunity to prove what he was capable of.
...The then 23-year-old's ferocious performance drove Liverpool on to a wholly impressive and confident 5-0 victory over Tottenham that day.
Henderson has more than kept that up since then, and he earned a place in England's World Cup after helping the Reds challenge for the Premier League last season.
Monday's tough night's work against the Yaya Toure-led midfield of champions Manchester City was a reminder of the performance level Liverpool are aspiring to these days. With that in mind, Henderson will be keen to help spark an immediate response at a ground he has fond memories from.
One player charged with neutralising the threat of Henderson could be Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb. The Algeria international has started both of his side's Premier League games so far this season and, after being rested for their Europa League win over Limassol, should be back for the Liverpool clash.
There will almost certainly be points when Henderson ventures into Bentaleb's vicinity, attempting to push Spurs back as well as he did last year. The 19-year-old will have to be prepared for those occasions, and try to be on hand to check Henderson's runs when they come.
Perhaps the biggest part of their battle will not be directly against one another, but over who can have the greater impact imposing their will on the game.
Henderson showed his attacking instincts last season. Bentaleb has not yet established that part of his game, but he hinted at it again against Queens Park Rangers last week with final-third involvement in a couple of moves he helped instigate.
It is a big ask against a strong Liverpool side. But Bentaleb will likely be vital in ensuring there are sufficient links between his team's defence and attack. A failure to do so could see Henderson and his team-mates take advantage of the disconnect in a similar manner to which they did so thoroughly in 2013-14.
Capoue vs. Liverpool's Attacking Midfield
Liverpool were already 1-0 up at White Hart Lane last December when Sandro went off injured after 30 minutes. The Reds looked the better team already, but any semblance of protection Spurs had for their makeshift defence that day disappeared with the Brazilian's departure.
Etienne Capoue will not need reminding of the nightmare that followed, the defensive midfielder had been drafted in as cover at centre-back. While he had previously fared decently against Sunderland in the position, he (and his team-mates) unsurprisingly found things tougher against Luis Suarez and company.
Capoue will be back in his preferred defensive midfield position this week, a reward for fine form and a welcome return to full fitness this summer. Though not quite dominant, he has been a reassuring presence sniffing out opposition moves before they have reached his defence.
This weekend, the Frenchman will need to be at peak form to ensure his back four are not left overly exposed to attacking midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
In his predicted line-up for Sunday's game, Bleacher Report's Vince Siu suggests Sterling could get the nod here with Brendan Rodgers opting for a front two (more on which later).
Be it in his trickiness in one-on-ones or his habit of popping up into space, the England attacker cannot be allowed all his own way in such a centralised role. Capoue will not be alone in dealing with him here, but he will be best-placed to combat his potential influence.
With Coutinho to possibly contend with at some point, not to mention a number of other players likely to come at Spurs, Capoue could have a long afternoon as the first line of defence in his team's half. After injury denied him the chance to play in many big games last season, he should nonetheless relish the opportunity.
Chadli vs. Enrique/Manquillo
Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela have helmed the Tottenham attack in Premier League action so far this season.
Against Liverpool they will hope to replicate the successful fluidity they utilised in pulling QPR apart. It will make for a fascinating watch to see if they can get enough of the ball in the first place, and then get in and among Joe Allen, Steven Gerrard and Henderson with any real frequency.
Pochettino's wild-card, though, could be Nacer Chadli.
The Belgian scored twice versus the Hoops in his first start of 2014-15. He started out wide left but was soon interchanging with Eriksen and Lamela, popping up centrally and in off the right flank, baffling an unprepared QPR.
Chadli became, at times, an auxiliary striker, taking up space left unoccupied by a defence thinking it only had Emmanuel Adebayor to deal with up-front. For both his goals he was left unmarked, and he took advantage with aplomb.
If, like last week, Chadli is granted similar license to roam, the Spanish full-back pair could lead the battle to nullify him. They will certainly need to show more concentration than Moreno did against Man City when Stevan Jovetic sneakily dispossessed him, or risk Chadli also seizing on crosses and errant balls at either back-post.
Their best form of defence could be attack.
As noted, Chadli started on the left wing last Sunday. If Liverpool—be it in the form of Manquillo or a winger, if they decide on that—show they are getting at likely Spurs left-back Danny Rose, Chadli could quickly be forced into unwanted defensive duties.
Tottenham's Defence vs. Balotelli
Tottenham's last experience coming up against Mario Balotelli was not a pleasant one.
In January 2012 Harry Redknapp's side were still considered in the title reckoning when they came up against Manchester City. After going 2-0 down at the Etihad Stadium, goals from Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale leveled proceedings.
Defoe narrowly missed a chance to give Spurs the lead, but the difference between a valuable point and a crushing defeat soon emerged in the form of the brilliant but violent Balotelli.
The Italian stamped at a grounded Scott Parker's head, only just avoiding causing some serious damage. Though he was subsequently banned for four games for violent conduct, referee Howard Webb missed the incident during the match. As a result, Balotelli was still on the pitch in stoppage time when he won, and scored the game-winning penalty.
The trip down memory lane is to demonstrate just how big an influence the striker can be. Even when, like in 2012, he was only on the pitch for just over 25 minutes.
If the new Liverpool signing starts this weekend, he will be in his element as the centre of attention.
Consistency may not be chief among Balotelli's qualities, but making a grand entrance is. This is, after all, a player who scored on his Manchester City and AC Milan debuts—against FCU Poli in 2010 and Udinese in 2012, respectively.
With Daniel Sturridge his likely starting partner in the event of Balotelli playing, Liverpool will have no shortage of skill, energy and firepower.
Spurs—particularly their defence—must be alert to the Reds pair's ability to spring to life at any given moment. Not to mention Balotelli's ability to provoke a wide-range of responses, be it with a ball at his feet or otherwise.
The north Londoners could have a debutant of their own if Federico Fazio stars. But be it him, Vlad Chiriches, Eric Dier, Younes Kaboul or Jan Vertonghen who plays in central defence, they must remain cool and ready up against Balotelli.