Progress report: Liverpool to gauge improvement in away Premier League showdown with Tottenham
Jurgen Klopp debuted as coach of the Reds at White Hart Lane 10 months ago and this weekend’s clash could show if he is heading in the right direction
How far have Liverpool come in the 10 months since their first match under Jurgen Klopp away to Tottenham?
The question is still open to debate after their distinctly mixed opening to the English Premier League season and this weekend’s return trip to White Hart Lane may provide more clues as to whether Klopp is heading in the right direction.
All seemed rosy on the opening day when Liverpool won 4-3 at Arsenal but last week’s 2-0 defeat at promoted Burnley, despite Klopp’s side having more than 80 per cent of the possession, has darkened the outlook.
‘How long will Liverpool keep faith with Klopp?’ was the question posed by one British newspaper this week.
The stats suggest Klopp’s Liverpool are improving – six defeats in his first 16 Premier League games but only three in the 16 since – but the visual impression can be very different. There is also the suspicion that they reserve their best for the big matches.
If that is the case, Liverpool could get another good result against Tottenham. Their first match under Klopp brought a goalless draw and the two sides could not be separated again in a 1-1 at Anfield in April.
Overall, Liverpool have lost only one out of 12 against big-six teams under Klopp in all competitions.
Tottenham’s record against the big six is no less solid – one defeat in 10 league meetings last season, and that was on the opening day away to Manchester United.
Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have started the new season well enough and there is no reason why they cannot improve further and mount another strong title challenge.
Tottenham look nearer to the finished article than Liverpool and, with little prospect that they will fall apart like north London rivals Arsenal did on the opening day, Pochettino’s side rate the handicap pick.
The best bet for a straight home win is Leicester, who have created enough chances in their first two games to suggest that they will soon be winning again.
It is worth remembering that they were winless for two or more games on three occasions last season and always found top form again.
Everton remain a team to follow after starting with a home draw against Tottenham and a 2-1 win at West Brom in their first two matches under Ronald Koeman.
Tonight they host Stoke, whose sluggish start has emphasised their lack of a consistent goalscorer from open play. Their two goals so far have come from a free-kick and a penalty.
Everton look a better team already under Koeman, whose tactical flexibility was evident at West Brom when he was quick to change the system after his team fell behind.
Top striker Romelu Lukaku and new signings Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie all made substitute appearances at the Hawthorns and the prospect of all three starting tonight clearly represents a major boost to Everton’s chance.
Another team who appear to offer early-season value is Middlesbrough, who have a decent chance to build on their promising start when they visit West Brom tomorrow night.
Aitor Karanka was one of the busier managers early in the transfer window but his revamped side have gelled well to secure a 1-1 at home to Stoke and a 2-1 win at Sunderland.
Tomorrow’s match is another opportunity to build up the points bank against one of the lesser teams and Boro’s goal threat gives them a decent chance on the handicap at least.
West Brom have not won in their last 10 Premier League games when conceding, going back to a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace in February, and look vulnerable favourites.
Palace themselves are hard to trust as favourites at home to Bournemouth, as their opening two defeats have left them with just two wins from their last 23 Premier League games.
Christian Benteke’s signing is a positive move, but Alan Pardew’s side are a risky bet until they start winning on a regular basis.
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Among the short-priced big teams, the most vulnerable has to be Manchester City at home to West Ham, who won seven and lost only one of their 12 games against big-six opposition last season.
That sequence included a 2-1 win at City and a 2-2 in the home match, which suggests the Hammers can cause problems for the City defence, especially if Dimitri Payet is ready for his first start of the season in the Premier League.
Payet makes West Ham tick and they won 50 per cent of the away games he started last season, but none when he wasn’t available.