COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool at Wembley Stadium last season was a loss that would have haunted Jurgen Klopp.
It wasn’t the result itself that would have infuriated the German; rather, the manner of the Reds’ meek surrender at Spurs’ adopted home.
They were two goals down after 12 minutes, following two inexcusable Dejan Lovren gaffes – the Croatian was withdrawn after half an hour – and went in 3-1 down at half-time.
By the 56th minute, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were 4-1 up, following a Simon Mignolet error, and it was effectively curtains for the Merseysiders before the hour mark.
A fuming Klopp lambasted his team’s mistakes in an appalling outing and branded it “too easy for Tottenham”.
He was definitely right.
The fact this season’s fixture will take place at the same ground, as opposed to the new White Hart Lane, may be seen as fate dealing the Reds the right cards as they seek to right last year’s wrongs. This sort of thing could go two ways: the players could either rise up to take up the challenge of correcting the humiliation, or they could totally freeze and fail to turn up.
The German tactician will certainly hope for the former.
Irrespective of Liverpool’s flawless start, it should be noted they haven’t really hit top gear, and they owe a lot to Sadio Mane’s early-season impact.
Barring their amazing 4-0 win against a hopeless West Ham United in gameweek one, their performances have been ironically ‘un-Klopp-like’. They were ran close at Crystal Palace, and only made sure of the points in stoppage time when the Senegalese scored in a 2-0 win, before Jekyll and Hyde games against Brighton & Hove Albion (1-0) and Leicester City (2-1).
In all honesty, the aforementioned fact must be undertstood in the context that the Reds haven’t won four on the trot at the start of league football since 1990.
Also, it’s still only September, and the campaign is undoubtedly a marathon, so the natural expectation is that the German’s side will get better as the season progresses.
It’ll also be hypocritical to give them stick for winning ugly – an ingredient they’ve been criticized for lacking in recent years - particularly when they're enjoying a 100-percent record so far.
Mane has been the star this time around, as opposed to Salah who has (so far) been subdued. The Senegal international’s form has been a bit reminiscent of his start in 2016/17 when he scored three in his first five appearances in a debut season that saw him earn a place in the PFA Team of the Year, as well as being voted Liverpool Player of the Year. The forward’s even bettered that this term with four goals in as many appearances, and seems to be edging his friendly rivalry with the Egyptian.
Salah has not had last year’s blistering start, but still has two league goals as things stand, and that’s certainly respectable, in all honesty. Expectations for the attacker have heightened following last year’s devastating, record-breaking season which saw him hit 32 league goals, before being named best in the land – and deservedly so.
Granted, he’s yet to really do any sort of damage against any side in the early stages of the season, but it’d be unwise to write him off just four gameweeks into the campaign. It was always going to be hard to replicate such high numbers, given opposing defenders will keep a watchful eye on him, but he’ll definitely chip in with his fair share in the league contenders’ campaign.
The added dynamism Naby Keita brings has been apparent in the Reds’ midfield, and while the Guinea international has only fleetingly shown what he’s capable of, you feel the midfielder would gain more confidence to be more expressive once he adapts to the league and his new team-mates.
For their part, Tottenham have done well to keep it together following a summer that saw no new signing arrive. The transfer inactivity, coupled with the delay in moving to their new ground, could have seen the Lilywhites feel sorry for themselves, but Pochettino has seemingly steadied the ship.
However, you feel the Argentine will be livid following their 2-1 loss to Watford before the international break – a disappointing defeat that followed their amazing 3-0 win at Manchester United a week before – and he’ll absolutely want a response to their collapse last time out.
The corresponding fixture last season saw the tactician deploy Serge Aurier at left-back to nullify Salah’s threat and it worked to some extent. Some may point to Spurs’ fast start – which completely ruined Liverpool’s gameplan – while pointing to the wideman’s goal (the one moment the Ivorian full-back switched off) to contradict Aurier’s performance, but he definitely did well on the day.
Will Pochettino put his faith in the slightly forgotten man yet again to reprise his man-marking role on the Egyptian? Or maybe he might have a different instruction, this time in his natural berth on the right, of attempting to nullify the threat of another in-form attacker in Mane.
Another trip to Wembley awaits Klopp and his Reds side in Saturday's early kick-off, and they’ll know only a much-improved performance from last year’s humiliating trouncing will see them maintain their unblemished start to the season.
The pair of Mane and Salah will be key to the Merseyside club getting their pound of flesh, as well as heaping further woe on one of their title rivals.