Talking points: Will Liverpool end their slump at expense of Tottenham?

Tottenham take on Liverpool on Thursday night in a crucial game for both sides’ aspirations of challenging for the Premier League title.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the talking points.

Mourinho v Klopp

Jose Mourinho, right, and Jurgen Klopp exchanged words at full-time of December's reverse fixture
Jose Mourinho, right, and Jurgen Klopp exchanged words at full-time of December's reverse fixture

December’s reverse fixture, which Liverpool won 2-1 with a stoppage-time goal, ended in an exchange of words between Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp as one of the biggest current managerial rivalries heated up. Mourinho told his counterpart that “the best team lost”, which did Klopp did not take lying down. However, the German should not have minded too much as it extended his good record over Mourinho. In the 12 games they have come up against each other, in games between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United, and Liverpool against Tottenham, Klopp has been on the winning side six times. Four have been draws and Mourinho has won just twice, the last coming in a 2-1 win for Manchester United in 2018.

Will Liverpool end their slump?

A shocking run of form by Liverpool’s recent standards has left their title defence in tatters as they sit seven points off leaders Manchester City, having won none of their last five games – a record almost unheard of under Klopp. Indeed, the Reds are a staggering 21 points worse off than they were at the same stage of last season as an inevitable drop-off, injuries to key men and a lack of transfer activity have all taken their toll. They simply cannot afford to lose against Spurs, who would climb above them in the table with a game in hand, if they have any realistic aim of winning a second successive title. To do that they have to end a Premier League scoring drought that has gone on four and a half hours, going back to when Sadio Mane scored against West Brom on December 27. They have also got to cure some travel sickness, having won just two of their nine away games so far.

How will Tottenham approach the game?

Mourinho has received a lot of criticism this season for his pragmatic approach to games, especially when his side have gone in front. Dropped points from winning positions in home games against Newcastle, West Ham and Fulham, where they did not kill the game when leading, have hurt their title chances. The Portuguese has always taken a defensive approach against the big teams this season, hitting them on the break, and it paid off with wins against Manchester City and Arsenal, while they drew 0-0 at Chelsea before Frank Lampard hit the speed bump which saw him sacked this week. That may be his approach again against the Reds, even though their defence definitely looks there to be got at. One of Spurs’ major problems has been an over-reliance on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who between them have scored 24 of their 33 Premier League goals.

Bale is back?

The only Spurs player to score in all four competitions this season…

@GarethBale11#THFC ⚪️

— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) January 26, 2021

Spurs’ over-reliance on Kane and Son has been exacerbated by the underwhelming return of Gareth Bale, who has been hit by injury and illness in his second stint in north London. The Wales international has shown nothing of the form that made him the world’s most expensive player in 2013 or a four-time Champions League winner at Real Madrid and has spent most of the season on the bench or in the treatment room. Indeed, he has played just 45 minutes of Premier League action since early November and that is simply not enough. He did get through his first 90 minutes of the season against Wycombe in the FA Cup on Monday so Mourinho will be hoping that he is now in a position to begin influencing league games. He is likely to start on the bench against Liverpool, but could be ready to make an impact if he is called upon.