Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Purring on all cylinders regardless the opponent they play or the first XI they put out, champions-elect Liverpool look for a 12th consecutive league victory Saturday when they face short-handed Tottenham Hotspur in north London.
Liverpool (19-1-0) have recorded five consecutive clean sheets in all competitions as well as league play, with those shutout streaks entering play Saturday at 526 and 495 minutes, respectively, and have not conceded a goal in league action since right before halftime of their 5-2 throttling of Everton on Dec. 2.
The Merseysiders are 13 points clear of Leicester City with a match in hand and poised to make runs at Manchester City's centurion standard of 100 points set in 2017-18 as well as Arsenal's "Invincibles" of 2003-04 that went 26-12-0.
A victory would give Liverpool the best top-flight start in the 131-year history of English football. Manchester City also had 58 points after 20 matches two seasons ago but were held to a draw by Crystal Palace in their 21st match.
Liverpool have not lost a league contest since their 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on Jan. 3, 2019, and enter this contest unbeaten in 37 matches (32-5-0). The Merseysiders also have scored in 29 consecutive Premier League contests, the third-longest such run of this era.
The FIFA Club World Cup winners also showed they may have the two best XIs in Liverpool, having their youthful charges emerge victorious over eternal Merseyside rivals Everton 1-0 at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Curtis Jones' sublime finish for a player of any age, let alone an 18-year-old - a curling right-footed shot inside the upper right 90 on 71 minutes -- separated the sides as he was one of nine changes manager Jurgen Klopp made from the 2-0 victory over Sheffield United on Jan. 2, and the Liverpool gaffer was forced into an early change when holdover James Milner was forced off after nine minutes due to injury.
The victory also marked the Liverpool debut of midfielder Takumi Minamino, who gave an energetic 70-minute display in a high-profile match following his arrival from Red Bull Salzburg.
"Super, outstanding. Exactly the player we wanted, exactly the player we wished for," Klopp told Liverpool's official website about Minamino. "Your first game in a team you don't know, if it's a settled team it's already difficult - this team we threw more or less on the pitch with two sessions together. And then showing this kind of game understanding, football skills are exceptional, attitude is outstanding, led the chasing pack so often in different situations, which I loved."
A spectator on the bench last week, striker Sadio Mane was named the CAF African Player of the Year on Tuesday, edging out teammate and two-time winner Mohamed Salah and Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez. Mane, Salah, and Reds defender Joel Matip were all selected to the FIFPro Africa Best XI for 2019.
"It's a big day for me. I would love to thank all the Senegalese people - they have been following me all the time, they push me," Mane said upon receiving the award in Egypt. "And my village, I come from a very small village called Bambali, I'm sure they are all watching on TV. Again, I am really happy and very proud to win this."
If there was one person, however, who would be primed to throw a spanner into a season of accolades and a long-sought piece of silverware for Liverpool, it is Spurs coach Jose Mourinho. The "Special One" has been a bogey opponent of sorts for Liverpool, who have beaten him just seven times in 27 overall contests and only three times in 17 Premier League matchups.
Mourinho has his work cut out for him in trying to topple the Liverpool juggernaut. The most glaring absence is striker and talisman Harry Kane, who will be sidelined for a lengthy spell after suffering a torn hamstring in Tottenham's 1-0 loss to Southampton on New Year's Day. Kane, who has team highs of 11 goals in league play and 17 in all competitions, is expected to be out until April at the earliest.
Midfielder Moussa Sissoko is also unavailable, while Tanguy Ndombele is also expected to be sidelined for this contest. Defenders Danny Rose, Ben Davies, and first-choice keeper Hugo Lloris remain long-term injury absentees, though midfielders Harry Winks and Erik Lamela could be in line for a return.
Heung-Min Son does return after serving his three-game ban for a red card, but it seems unlikely the South Korea international will lead the line on his own and could be paired up front with Lucas Moura or perhaps Dele Alli, who has been revitalized since Mourinho's arrival.
Tottenham (8-6-7), who are in sixth place on 30 points and ahead of Wolverhampton on goal difference, also have yet to punch above their weight since Mourinho took over. While the Lilywhites have won four of their five home matches in league play under the Portuguese boss, their two losses have come to his former sides Manchester United and Chelsea.
Despite the rash of injuries and a disappointing 1-1 draw versus Middlesbrough that resulted in a third-round FA Cup replay Tuesday at home, defender Jan Vertonghen insists there is plenty to play for even if the league title is out of reach.
"It's a tough spell, that's true, but the most important thing is that we have confidence in ourselves, the manager and everyone around the Club to get back to winning ways. I feel all the ingredients are here," the Belgium international told Spurs' official website. "In my career, I've known ups and downs... look, we haven't won in our last three games, but I don't want to have the conversation that we're down, I still feel we have everything to play for.
"The top four is in sight, we're in the next round of the Champions League and everything is still to play for in the FA Cup, so at the end of the day, nothing major, and we push on."
The Champions League runners-up were also second-best in the reverse fixture at Anfield in October, losing 2-1 after conceding second-half goals to Jordan Henderson and Salah.
The Egypt international buried the decisive goal from the spot on 75 minutes after Mane was felled by Sergio Aurier. Kane had given the north Londoners the lead on 47 seconds, and Rose squandered a gilt-edged chance for an equaliser on 89 minutes when he shot high.
Liverpool are seeking their fifth win on the bounce over Tottenham in all competitions and are 11-4-1 in the last 16 meetings between the sides.
Updated January 9, 2020