Liverpool look vulnerable at home to Tottenham Hotspur, but Reds often show their true colours against the big boys
Juergen Klopp’s side are on a five-match winless run in the Premier League since the start of 2017, but are unbeaten in seven against the other members of the big six
Two huge matches at opposite ends of the table dominate the English Premier League this weekend, with Liverpool at home to Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City hosting Leicester City in a big relegation clash.
On current form Liverpool, having started the season as serious title contenders, look vulnerable against Tottenham as Juergen Klopp’s side have slid to fifth place with a five-match winless run since the start of 2017 that has included defeats by relegation battlers Swansea and Hull City.
That period has also seen them dumped out of both domestic cup competitions and their only victory in 10 matches in all competitions in 2017 was an FA Cup replay win at League Two side Plymouth Argyle after a goalless draw at home.
Squad rotation played some part in the lower-level performances in the cups, but essentially the past few weeks have provided further evidence of Liverpool’s problems with breaking down massed defences.
Their early season 2-0 defeat at Burnley looks better in hindsight with Sean Dyche’s team ranked third on home form, but Liverpool had 80 per cent of the possession that day and were unable to score. There were similarities in last week’s 2-0 loss at Hull, where Klopp’s side had 72 per cent of the possession and won the corner count 15-1, but were undone by a well-organised team that defended in depth and hit them on the break.
Liverpool’s four league defeats have all been against teams in the bottom nine and those lost 12 points have been crucial, given that they trail Chelsea by 13.
The Premier League leaders have three of the four equivalent fixtures still to play - including this weekends match at Burnley - but it is difficult to envisage them dropping many points, if any at all. So far Chelsea have taken 31 out of 33 points against the bottom nine teams.
The flipside for Liverpool is that their style of play is most effective against the better teams, who generally do not line up merely to defend and so leave themselves open to Liverpool’s high pressing and quick movement into space.
That helps to explain why Liverpool are unbeaten in seven matches against the other members of the Premier League big six, including an early season 1-1 draw at Tottenham, while Klopp’s side also had a 2-1 home win against Spurs in the League Cup when both teams included several fringe players.
There is another positive for the match this time in that Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane, Liverpool’s two most dynamic attackers, are likely to be in the starting line-up together for the first time since late November.
Liverpool’s record with that pair starting is eight wins and three draws out of 11, but only five wins out of 13 without them.
Tottenham come armed with the best defence in the Premier League with 16 goals conceded in 24 matches and Mauricio Pochettino will have seen how Liverpool struggle against teams that sit deep, which may influence his tactics.
With their defensive strength and attacking speed, Tottenham are well set up to become the first big team to beat Liverpool this season.
On the handicap at least, Tottenham rate the pick but this is a close match to call and Liverpool could well perform much better than their recent form suggests.
Only two points cover the Premier League’s bottom six and there could be a shake-up in the order this weekend with Swansea and Leicester - the two teams immediately above the relegation zone - facing each other.
Leicester are one of the teams who have been dragged into the battle through a lack of momentum, with only one win in nine league matches since beating Manchester City 4-2 at home in December.
They have failed to score in seven of those last nine games and their away record is atrocious, with just three points out of 36 this season.
The odd aspect of Leicester’s performance this season is that their Champions League and FA Cup results have been good, but there is a real possibility that last season’s champions will be relegated unless they can bring that form to the Premier League quickly.
Swansea would be a good place to start, but the hosts are worthy favourites and look decent odds for the win, as well as a solid pick on the handicap.
After back-to-back wins against Liverpool and Southampton, Swansea were beaten only by a last-minute goal at Manchester City last week and their improvement for new boss Paul Clement looks genuine.
Stoke City look the other decent-priced home team against Crystal Palace, while a longer-priced away bet is West Bromwich Albion at West Ham United.
Reading, Cologne, Sampdoria
Stoke home win
Strong record against teams below them
Swansea home win
Good odds in big relegation clash
Derby home win
Excellent at home under Steve McClaren
Leeds home win
Six straight home wins without conceding
Hoffenheim on handicap
Beaten only by second-placed Leipzig this season
Years since Liverpool started a calendar year so badly