At long last, the international break is over. English club football is back this weekend, and how! For the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, Liverpool will travel to Wembley Stadium to play Tottenham Hotspur, on what should have been the day of the unveiling of Spurs’ new stadium.
Memories of last season’s visit to the national stadium, or any visit there since April 2012 are terrible, but the Reds won four in four before the break, and now head into a massive phase of the season, with big league games coming either side of crunch Champions League Group Stage ties.
Spurs’s 100% start was broken in their last game, as an inspired Watford side rallied to come from a goal down to win 2-1. Mauricio Pochettino also has concerns over the fitness of Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli, both of whom missed matches for their countries during the international break.
For Liverpool, there have been no fresh injury concerns, with just Dejan Lovren being unavailable for selection, apart from long-term absentee, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Here are some key individual battles that will decide the course of this game.
LUCAS MOURA v VIRGIL VAN DIJK
The Brazilian was the Premier League’s best player in the month of August, and it has shown in his goal tally, as he finally had lift-off in his Spurs career. With Son Heung-min away on international duty, Moura grabbed his opportunity with both hands and has made it impossible for Pochettino to drop him for such a crunch game.
His pace and his ability to make runs in behind have been used to the fullest by a Spurs side, who have a wide range of options while they attack. Perhaps the biggest plus for Spurs has been the seamlessness with which Moura has forged a partnership with Harry Kane, who has not looked at his most lethal best in the opening four games of the season, although he did break his August goal-drought.
Since his comeback from an injury towards the end of last season, Kane does take a lesser volume of shots, placing more of an onus on the other around him, and Moura has risen to that challenge this season.
His performance in the second half of Spurs’ 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford is a neat example of the challenge that will face Liverpool’s unflappable Dutch centre-back on Saturday.
There is little doubt that Van Dijk is a Rolls Royce of a defender in every sense of the phrase. The clip doing the rounds of him going head-to-head with Kylian Mbappe will also be soothing to a lot of Liverpool nerves, but he will have to be on his game, to deny Moura any joy.
His aerial prowess is not going to be tested as much in this game, but his ability to read the play and get in the way of through balls looking for runs in behind is going to be very crucial.
CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN v GINI WIJNALDUM
The other Dutchman in Liverpool’s side – Wijnaldum – has been a very important cog in the Liverpool wheel over the opening few weeks of the season. Like Moura for Spurs, Wijnaldum has made himself undroppable too, with the consistency over the opening four games.
Eriksen is among the most under-rated players in the league. He is not flashy, but neat, technically correct and mightly effective. The level he is at is probably only bettered in the league by the brilliant Kevin de Bruyne.
Eriksen has played a slightly more withdrawn role for Pochettino this season, with the Dane being given the responsibility of controlling the tempo of games from the middle of the park.
Wijnaldum has shown this season that he’s got the awareness to play as the defensive midfielder, and has shut down space very effectively. That is going to be crucial against a player of Eriksen’s ilk.
The little Dane thrives on being given room in the middle of the park. With the likes of Moura and Kane in front of him, he is never going to have a shortage of options to play the ball too, so it is important that Wijnaldum is able to shackle Eriksen, as has got the ability to change the game on his own.
KIERAN TRIPPIER v SADIO MANE
Mane has easily looked the sharpest among Liverpool’s front three thus far, this season. With the attention on the record-breaking Mo Salah and the brilliant Roberto Firmino, it has allowed the Reds’ new no.10 to enjoy his game with slightly less pressure on him.
Mane seems to be enjoying his new role a little further infield than last season and is causing havoc for defenders along with Naby Keita and Andrew Robertson. Trippier is going to have to deal with a lot of movement, and most importantly, movement at pace.
But for Trippier, it could well be a case of attack being the best form of defence. He has shown all through the summer that he is a fantastic player going forward, and Spurs will do well to utilise his strengths on that flank, to serve multiple purposes.
Obviously, Trippier is a huge threat himself, but him getting forward will considerably lessen the impact Mane and Robertson might be able to have on the other end of the pitch.