Premier League: Who Has the Edge in the Clash Between Liverpool and Tottenham?

Managers Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp bring their young, attacking sides up against one another in an early season encounter. After two draws last year, how will this contest go?

Tottenham and Liverpool are two clubs that have been flitting around the fringes of greatness for several years now, similar in their aims and their relative progress toward them. The spending power and resulting squad strength of the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal typically leaves little room at the top of the table.

As a result, each success – large or small – for Tottenham or the Reds serves as a hindrance to the other’s progress. They are both consistently competing for the same transfer targets. Unsurprisingly, a contentious rivalry has emerged.

Season Date Score Venue
2015-16 4/2/2016 Liverpool 1 - 1 Tottenham Anfield
2015-16 10/17/2015 Tottenham 0 - 0 Liverpool White Hart Lane
2014-15 2/10/2015 Liverpool 3 - 2 Tottenham Anfield
2014-15 8/31/2014 Tottenham 0 - 3 Liverpool White Hart Lane
2013-14 3/30/2014 Liverpool 4 - 0 Tottenham Anfield
2013-14 12/15/2013 Tottenham 0 - 5 Liverpool White Hart Lane
2012-13 3/10/2013 Liverpool 3 - 2 Tottenham Anfield
2012-13 11/28/2012 Tottenham 2 - 1 Liverpool White Hart Lane
2011-12 2/6/2012 Liverpool 0 - 0 Tottenham Anfield
2011-12 9/18/2011 Tottenham 4 - 0 Liverpool White Hart Lane

Looking at the last five years, Liverpool have had the upper hand in terms of head-to-head results, having won five of the last seven encounters – including a few notable blowouts. Spurs, however, have consistently finished higher in the league over that span, with Liverpool’s second-place finish in the 2013-14 season marking the only time they came out ahead.

The clubs played to draws in both matches last season, but Spurs, of course, finished third, their best-ever finish in the Premier League era while Liverpool could only manage an eighth-place showing.

Season Tottenham Hotspur Liverpool
2015-16 3rd 8th
2014-15 5th 6th
2013-14 6th 2nd
2012-13 5th 7th
2011-12 4th 8th

A few years ago, both clubs sold star players to Spanish giants for massive sums of money with Gareth Bale going to Real Madrid and Luis Suarez heading to Barcelona. They then both brought in young, passionate, attack-minded managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp. The difference is that Spurs went through both of these transformations a year earlier than Liverpool, and thus look to be a step ahead in terms of their overall development.

Pochettino looks to have a well-balanced squad entering his third season in charge, only needing one or two more signings to add depth. Meanwhile, Klopp still has a lot of sorting out to do as he enters his second season -- first full year -- at the helm. He has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal but needs to figure out where all the pieces fit, and the squad is still relatively light in defense.

What They've Done This Season

Spurs came out sluggish in the first half of their opening match with Everton, conceding a sloppy goal from a set piece in the sixth minute and losing goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to injury in the process. Pochettino made a positive adjustment in the second half by bringing on striker Vincent Janssen for holding midfielder Eric Dier in the 56th, pairing the newly-signed poacher up top with Harry Kane.

The substitution paid immediate dividends as Spurs looked much brighter in attack, and they were able to equalize through an Erik Lamela header just four minutes later. Spurs piled on the pressure in search of a match-winner while Everton were left to scrape out chances on the counter, but Toffees' Maarten Stekelenburg put in an admirable performance to keep the score level until full time.

Spurs looked to carry some momentum into their second match against Crystal Palace by dropping Dele Alli from the starting XI and playing Janssen and Kane together once again. Kane acted as a traditional No. 10, dropping in behind Janssen and looking to create chances.

Spurs dominated the first half, but they were unable to find the back of the net and allowed Palace back into the game after the break. Spurs fans were left to endure a nervy ordeal, but the club’s other summer signing, Victor Wanyama, ultimately broke the deadlock with a headed goal in the 83rd minute. Spurs held on for their first victory of the season.

Liverpool were similarly disjointed in the first half of their opening game, playing against an injury-laden Arsenal side. The Gunners took the lead courtesy of a Theo Walcott goal, but Liverpool equalized just before the break with a beautiful free kick from Philippe Coutinho.

Klopp’s side came out firing in the second half, relentlessly attacking the weakened Arsenal back line and scoring with flair. They were up 4-1 by the 63rd minute and looked to be cruising toward victory when a defensive lapse allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to immediately draw one back for Arsenal. Calum Chambers brought the score to 4-3 in the 75th, but Liverpool were able to see the rest of the match out for the win.

Liverpool fans were likely looking to their second match against Burnley as the one sure source of three points amongst a slew of difficult early-season fixtures, but those hopes were quickly dashed when Sam Vokes put the Clarets up just two minutes into the game. Liverpool attempted to take control, but they struggled to create anything more than half-chances, and Burnley doubled their lead through Andre Gray in the 37th.

Over the course of the match, Liverpool managed to have 80% of possession without finding the back of the net. They took 26 shots to Burnley’s 3, but 8 of their shots were blocked and 13 missed the target. It was a frustrating loss to endure and a definite setback following their brilliant attacking display against Arsenal.

The Matchup

Spurs have played much more consistently across their two games than Liverpool have, but this is likely down to the relative strengths of their opponents. Spurs played sides that finished 11th and 15th last season while Liverpool played a team that finished 2nd and one that was in the Championship. Predictably, Liverpool enjoyed massive boosts to their possession and pass success percentages in their match against Burnley, despite the unfavorable result

Tottenham Hotspur Liverpool
Possession 54.10% 60.90%
Pass success 79.80% 86.30%
Shots inside box 54.50% 50.00%

After finishing first and second, respectively, in terms of shots taken last season, Spurs and Liverpool are once again outpacing their opponents in terms of chance creation. Liverpool currently top the league with 21 shots per game while Spurs are fourth at 16.5.

Both sides are struggling to put away the chances they create, however. Spurs have managed only one goal in each of their games. Liverpool had their four-goal outburst against Arsenal, but it’s necessary to point out that the Gunners were without both of their first-choice center backs, especially considering Liverpool were then blanked by a club that most are projecting to be relegated right back down to the Championship next season.

Tottenham Hotspur Liverpool
Shots (on goal) 34 (9) 42 (12)
Goals 2 4
Shots against (on goal) 24 (6) 12 (7)
Goals against 1 5

Digging a bit deeper, we can see that Liverpool have done better than Spurs in terms of winning duels this season, coming away with the ball 52.4% of the time. Spurs have more often been on the losing end of their battles, only winning 45.4% of the time. Both sides have landed roughly a quarter of their shots on target, which is slightly below where they were firing at last season.

Where the difference lies is in the shots both sides have allowed against them. Spurs’ two opponents have only landed a quarter of their own shots on target and only one has found the back of the net. Liverpool’s opponents have managed half as many shots as those of Spurs, but 58.3% have been on target and 41.7% have resulted in goals.

Tottenham Hotspur Liverpool
Duels Won 109 120
Total Duels 240 229
% Won 45.40% 52.40%

What does this tell us? Liverpool’s statistics are indicative of a team that is strong in midfield but weak in defense. They tend to win battles and control possession, but when they turn the ball over, they are exceptionally prone to counterattacks.

This is unsurprising, considering their aforementioned depth in midfield and relative lack of options in defense. Liverpool are essentially without a first-choice left back, with Klopp choosing to start James Milner in that position against Burnley over Alberto Moreno. Goalkeeper Loris Karius, signed this summer to compete with Simon Mignolet, will be out until at least September with a broken hand.

Tottenham, on the other hand, have kept the joint-best defensive unit from last season intact. Losing goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris to injury was a blow, no doubt, but backup Michel Vorm has thus far answered the call admirably, yet to concede a goal.

However, they are still struggling to cope with the suspension of central midfielder Mousa Dembele. The burley Belgian’s presence in midfield made a dramatic difference in possession battles last season, and Victor Wanyama does not possess the same skills in terms of ball control and creativity.


Spurs appear, on paper, to be a much more balanced team, but they have struggled to fill the void in the middle of the park left by Dembele’s suspension. Contrastingly, Liverpool are packed with attacking talent, but their defense is suspect. The two sides played each other extremely tight in both contests last season with Pochettino and Klopp’s similar styles meeting head on. It's safe to expect a similar result here.

Liverpool will have restored some of their confidence with their 5-0 midweek win over Burton Albion in the EFL Cup, but that comes at the cost of stamina, with Spurs’ players having a full week’s rest. Add in the support of a packed White Hart Lane, and Tottenham look to be slight favorites to pull out a narrow victory.