Liverpool v Tottenham: The three key battles to watch at Anfield

Ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday, we look at three key battles that could decide where the game will be won or lost.

Davinson Sanchez v Roberto Firmino

Two of their respective sides’ unsung heroes go head to head at Anfield on Sunday. Davinson Sanchez and Roberto Firmino may not grab the headlines as frequently as their big-name team-mates, but their performances this season have not gone unnoticed.

Sanchez is as key a figure in the Spurs backline as any. What sets Sanchez apart is his composure, especially for a talent so raw.

No Spurs or Liverpool defender who has more than 10 Premier League appearances this season has given the ball away on as few occasions as Sanchez, which, in his debut season, is mightily impressive. Against Liverpool at Wembley back in October, the 21-year-old lost possession four times all match. James Milner did so 25 times.

Keeping the ball away from Liverpool will be of paramount importance at Anfield, so Sanchez’s composure, with Toby Alderweireld facing a race against time to be fit, will be key.

One of those players kept quiet at Wembley was Firmino. The Brazilian was completely ineffective as Liverpool slumped to defeat. He didn’t have a single shot, provide a key pass or successful cross all match. Ahead of the return clash at Anfield, though, and a different Firmino-shaped beast is ready to take on Sanchez and Spurs.

The Brazil international started the season sluggishly indeed. Just two league goals flowed for Firmino before late October, even though the rest of his team-mates couldn’t stop scoring.

However, nine strikes have come since, as Firmino has developed into the No 9 Jurgen Klopp envisaged. Leader of the ‘Fab Four’, ‘Bobby’ Firmino is the in-form Liverpool hitman ready to really test the young pretender in Sanchez at Anfield.

Joel Matip v Heung-Min Son

Something strange has happened since Virgil van Dijk’s arrival at Liverpool – he is not the first name on the teamsheet. However, all the conspiracy theorists can rest easy, as it seems to be a matter of Klopp easing his new defender in, after so many injury problems.

Klopp’s go-to protector remains Joel Matip. For all Liverpool’s problems with consistency at the back, Matip remains the outlier. Matip has made just one error leading to a shot at goal since the start of last season, compared to Dejan Lovren’s four.

Possession stats is where Matip gets into Klopp’s good books.The Cameroon international made 161 successful passes against Huddersfield, the most any Liverpool has managed in a Premier League match, ever.

While Klopp’s plan for dealing with Harry Kane will likely involve Van Dijk going toe-to-toe with the Spurs record breaker, Matip could be untrusted with snuffing out Spurs’ other danger man – Heung-Min Son.

After being confined to the periphery of the Spurs squad since joining from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015, Son has surpassed Eriksen and Alli across a raft of attacking stats this season, per 90 minutes, including dribbles completed, goals, goals from outside the box, touches in the opposition’s box and shots on target.

Spurs have scored 29 league goals since the start of December – the same as league leaders Manchester City – and Son has been involved in 11 of those. This is a player who is as dangerous as any in the Spurs side, and it is likely to be up to Matip to stop him.

Mousa Dembele v Jordan Henderson

The blockbuster occasions in the Premier League down the years have had a central midfield battle royale at the heart of them, and while Mousa Dembele facing off against Jordan Henderson is hardly Roy Keane v Patrick Vieira, whoever comes out on top at Anfield is likely to have as equal a baring on the result.

Liverpool captain Henderson has come under criticism from many quarters, with the naysayers doubting what the 27-year-old actually brings to the table and, statistically, Henderson isn’t anywhere near as effective as many of his counterparts. But his manager never doubts his worth to the Liverpool side, and often launches into a staunch defence of the England international.

“How can he [Henderson] not be a brilliant player if he’s a Liverpool player?” came Klopp’s latest barb in journalists’ direction as the questions came once more. “If somebody doesn’t see his value, what can I do?”

The same can be said for Dembele. Both this season and last, Dembele hasn’t led the way statistically in any way, but ask Spurs fans, who watch him week in, week out, if he is a key player and the answer will be magnanimous.

Dembele’s relentless worth ethic stands him in good stead. He tirelessly covers so much ground, and isn’t afraid to throw in a tackle or two. Henderson likes to sit and pass, but Dembele will be on to him. Eric Dier is likely to play deeper, providing that extra protection for the Spurs back four, leaving Dembele free to hassle Henderson. A fascinating battle could ensue.

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