Tottenham look for landmark result against Liverpool but the problems mount for Antonio Conte

Tottenham look for landmark result against Liverpool but the problems mount for Antonio Conte

As the majority of South Korea frets over the condition of Heung-min Son, Tottenham’s concerns about the forward appear trivial by comparison.

Still, the likely loss of Son for Sunday’s visit of Liverpool and next week’s games against Nottingham Forest and Leeds is a major blow to Antonio Conte’s hopes of a strong finish to the half-season.

Son is set to have surgery on a fracture around his left eye, which will almost certainly rule him out of the Liverpool game and leave his availability next week and in Qatar dependent on his recovery.

After sharing the Golden Boot with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah last season, neither forward has come close to the same consistency this term and Son has scored in just two of his 19 club appearances. Nonetheless, his absence against the Reds will surely be significant.

Conte is already without forwards Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison, and even if the former is fit enough to return to the squad for this weekend’s clash, he will surely not be risked from the start after a month out with a hamstring injury. Bryan Gil is still not really trusted, so Lucas Moura is set to partner Harry Kane up front.

Meetings between Spurs and Liverpool have tended to be intense and engaging in recent seasons, and they have largely followed the same pattern of Liverpool dominating the ball while Spurs invite them on and look to exploit gaps behind their high-line in transition.

Their last meeting, a pulsating 1-1 draw at Anfield in May, was on-trend, and Son swept Spurs in front before Luis Diaz fired in an equaliser.

Liverpool have been particularly poor without the ball this term but Spurs’ ability to hurt them on the break will be severely impacted with no Son, who is a master at running beyond defenders and also scored in the 2-2 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture.

With a fully resourced attack, Spurs would have fancied their chances of a first win over Liverpool since October 2017, amid a series of ongoing doubts about the form of Jurgen Klopp’s key players as well as the German’s tactics.

If Conte’s side have generally got results without the performances, Liverpool have struggled to consistently achieve both and the Reds’ defensive wall of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Fabinho are all out of form. The job of punishing them will now fall to a jaded Kane, Lucas and Spurs’ patchy wing-backs.

These clubs were not direct rivals last season but they are still just about competing for the same target, and the sense that Sunday’s game is a six-pointer was underlined by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has suggested the Reds’ campaign depends on getting a result.

“Clearly as a team something’s not going right, it’s not going as well as we want it to go,” said the England full-back this week. “That’s something for everyone to think about, for everyone to address and make sure we put it right, especially next week against Spurs, top-four rivals.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Tottenham game could define Liverpool’s season (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Tottenham game could define Liverpool’s season (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

“We kind of need to go there and get some points if we’ve got any chance of reaching our aims and aspirations for the season.”

Spurs could also do with a landmark result against a big-six rival after losses to Arsenal and Manchester United raised questions about their mentality in these games.

The way the teams start the match will be under particular scrutiny, with both having developed an alarming habit of conceding first. Spurs have done so in 12 of their 19 fixtures this season, including their past five matches, while for Liverpool it is 10 in 19.

The other big question is whether the game will have the same intensity and bite as recent fixtures between these two, given its proximity to the World Cup.

The FA and England manager Gareth Southgate lobbied the Premier League to ensure that there were no meetings between big-six sides on the last weekend before the tournament, so this will be the final such encounter of the half-season (although Arsenal and Chelsea meet earlier on Sunday).

As the tournament gets closer and the players get more tired and warier of injury, games will inevitably drop in intensity, and both managers might be relieved with a stodgy 90 minutes and a share of spoils at the end.

The likely absence of Son, in form or not, increases the chances of a more drab affair than usual, although if Alexander-Arnold has his way Liverpool will play like their season depends on it.