Beware punters: Liverpool can put a spanner in the works for Tottenham
Premier League leaders Leicester also face a tough task and could have difficulty breaking down Southampton’s well-drilled defence
Leicester and Tottenham return to their battle for the English Premier League title buoyed by international goals for star players Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante, Harry Kane and Dele Alli but both teams face difficult tasks this weekend, while at the other end of the table Norwich and Newcastle go head-to-head in a crucial showdown.
Tottenham have the supposed advantage of playing before Leicester this time but that can only work in their favour if they have a positive result at Liverpool in Saturday’s late game, which is far from guaranteed.
Liverpool are inconsistent but at their best they are more than a match for any team, as they have shown this season by shutting out both Leicester and Tottenham. They had a goalless draw at White Hart Lane in Juergen Klopp’s first match in charge and later became the only team apart from Arsenal to beat Leicester in the Premier League this season with a 1-0 win at Anfield.
Several of Liverpool’s players impressed on England duty and if they carry on that form on Saturday they will be dangerous against Tottenham. While Liverpool’s home record does not look too impressive overall, their form has been affected by playing in the Europa League.
If home games following European ties are excluded, the record shows only two defeats in eight at Anfield and that makes Liverpool worth considering on the handicap.
Against that, Tottenham are an excellent away side with only two defeats in 15 league matches on the road this season. But they have won only two out of six away to top-half teams and, starting on Saturday, their next three road games are in that category, which makes those matches crucial to their title hopes.
Tottenham often concede against the better teams and Liverpool have a strong record when scoring at Anfield under Klopp, which adds to the belief that the hosts are the team to back on the handicap.
Leicester host Southampton in Sunday’s early match and, while the leaders are at home, the table says they have a tougher opponent (Southampton are seventh, whereas Liverpool are ninth).
That is emphasised by the fact that Southampton are third to Tottenham and Leicester in a form table based on the last 10 games, which makes them a close match for the hosts.
With Leicester less free-scoring, having managed more than a single goal only once in their last six games, they could have difficulty breaking down Southampton’s well-drilled defence.
Southampton are unbeaten in the last eight games in which they conceded none or one, which suggests Leicester will have to find their best attacking form to beat them.
It is arguable that Leicester continue to offer good value in every match given that the odds have not contracted to the level associated with Manchester City, Arsenal or even Tottenham, but on this occasion Southampton are more attractive on the handicap.
As with Tottenham at Anfield, Leicester will have achieved an excellent result if they win this weekend. Failures to win on the title run-in will be billed by pundits as slip-ups or signs of weakness, but they are only to be expected given that Leicester’s win percentage is 61 per cent and that is the best in the Premier League.
Statistically, Leicester and Tottenham can be expected to win only four of their remaining seven games while three will end in so-called failure. Keeping that sense of perspective will no doubt be difficult for players, fans and pundits alike, but that is the reality of the situation.
At the bottom, the reality is even more brutal given the dire consequences of losing Premier League status at this time in particular and Norwich versus Newcastle must rank as one of the biggest games of the season.
Looking at head-to-head records between teams in the bottom six, Norwich have won two out of three at home while Newcastle have lost all three away, which suggests the hosts could gain a valuable three points.
The question is whether Rafa Benitez can halt Newcastle’s away run of seven defeats and nine games without a clean sheet. With the interruption of the international break, he may not have had time to rectify the problems and Norwich are the tentative pick.
Several of the other games look too close to call, but that is not the case with West Ham at home to out-of-form (in the league at least) Crystal Palace. The Hammers have scored in their last eight games in all competitions, winning five of them, and are a strong fancy.