Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) in a battle of last season’s third- and fourth-place finishers jockeying for the right to make a genuine challenge to Manchester City’s stranglehold on the Premier League title.
Tottenham were victorious at Wembley Stadium — site of Saturday’s clash — to the tune of 4-1 last October, courtesy of a Harry Kane brace and single goals from Dele Alli and Son Heung-min, before the two sides played to a memorable 2-2 draw at Anfield in February.
Harry Kane vs. Virgil Van Dijk
It’s the world most expensive defender taking on the center forward who would likely command the largest transfer should he hit the market. That’s blockbuster stuff, and rightly so as both Kane and Van Dijk so nearly have every quality you’d expect to see from the ideal player in their respective positions. Kane possesses the size, strength, hold-up and passing ability, craftiness and finishing touch to put any half-chance into the back of the net. Van Dijk, on the other hand, can engage Kane in the kind of physical battle that’s most likely to wear him out over 90 minutes, while simultaneously sticking right alongside him in the open field. Kane won’t often find himself too far from Van Dijk on Saturday, which could mean he’s in for a long, hard day.
Pochettino has a big choice to make at left (wing) back — as is the case nearly every time out. Typically blessed with a pair of options which offer a night-and-day contrast to one another, Salah is the rare instance of an opponent for whom the Spurs boss truly needs a more well-rounded option. Rose’s attacking tendencies fit part of one gameplan that says the best way to defend Salah is to pin him back by overlapping on his side, but his lack of defensive discipline will almost certainly see him caught out of position a number of times, for which Salah will surely punish him. Davies’ defensive discipline will keep him in the right spots to at least slow Salah and make him work, but his lack of range and inability to change direction won’t allow him to stay in front of the Egyptian — not to mention all of the wide attacking play Spurs lose when he’s picked over Rose, thus inviting constant pressure on the backline as a whole.
Dembele is the soccer equivalent of American football’s “downhill runner”: the type of player who needs the first step or two to be unimpeded in order to generate a bit of moment, who’s then nearly impossible to slow down or take the ball off him once he begins to barrel forward. In his six-plus seasons at Spurs, Dembele has singlehandedly dragged his side to victory on dozens of days, while he’s been rendered completely ineffective on just as many others. It’s tempting to make Eric Dier — who’s far less comfortable and dynamic with the ball at his feet — the target of a press, but it’s Dembele who can be slowed to a crawl and subsequently blunt the entire Spurs attack. Keita will again be the one tasked with triggering the Reds’ high press, and he should made to stick on Dembele from the first to final whistles.