Manchester City have been on the receiving end of some horrendous tackles of late – ‘butchery’ is the way Raheem Sterling have described their plight.
Joe Bennett’s disgraceful tackle on Leroy Sane in last month’s FA Cup tie with Cardiff City was lucky not to have caused the German more serious injury, while Kevin De Bruyne and Brahim Diaz have also been unfortunate recipients.
However, for all their unjust treatment, City are not the most fouled team in the Premier League according to whoscored.com – far from it.
Sterling is the ninth-most felled player in the English top-flight, at a rate of 1.9 times per game, while the only other City player to crack the top 40 is David Silva (No32 at 1.4)
Below, we take a look at the top five Premier League players who have hit the turf more times than anyone else this season.
No.5 Eden Hazard – Chelsea
It’s a miracle that Hazard still has ankles given the punishment he’s been dished during his six years so far in the Premier League.
In fact, he has never finished outside the top three for most fouled players since he landed on British shores in 2012 – so he’s got some catching up to do this campaign, at 2.5 per game.
But he’s eluding more legs and managing to score as many goals as always, with 12 goals in all competitions so far this year.
=No.3 Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Crystal Palace
In the eyes of England fans, Loftus-Cheek arrived on the scene after a virtuoso display in – ahem – a friendly stalemate against Germany.
In truth the Chelsea loanee has been lighting up the midfield of a pretty ponderous Crystal Palace for most of the season, though he is currently on the sidelines nursing an injury.
He is fouled 2.6 times per game, but while he draws attention, his returns of one goal and two assists are underwhelming given his talent.
= No.3 Dele Alli – Tottenham
This has not been a vintage year for Alli, but he causes worry enough among back-lines for them to dirty his Hotspur whites on a consistent basis (2.6 fouls per game).
He’s not likely to dribble around you but he will cut you open and most certainly throw his weight around – having dished out a number of meaty, and ethically questionable, challenges himself.
Love him or loathe him, he’s certainly in the thick of things.
No.2 Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace
Much like Hazard, the fact that Zaha completes 4.2 dribbles per game means his legs take a seeing to by clumsy defenders, at a rate of 2.9.
However, his productivity has taken a downward turn of late as Palace struggle to find the net – and it’s partially of his own making too.
Indeed no one comes close to Zaha in the Premier League in terms of being dispossessed. It currently stands at 3.8 times per game, long strides clear of second-most Salomon Rondon (2.8).
No.1 Richarlison – Watford
Richarlison is frustration personified. If he’s not bamboozling defenders, he’s shooting gilt-edged chances high and wide.
But for a 20-year-old who swapped his life in Brazil for a rather alien Vicarage Road he’s done rather well. So much so that figures of £50m are being bandied about for his services.
And while he loves a soft foul now and again, he is being hacked at a rate of 3 times per game. Someone think of his shins.
With both sides fighting for a top-four finish in the Premier League, the hosts will be looking to avoid a repeat of the 4-1 thumping they endured at Wembley in the return fixture.
Here are some of the key tactical talking points ahead of the encounter …
ERIKSEN CONTINUES TO BE KEY FOR SPURS
Christian Eriksen took just 11 seconds to give Spurs the lead over United on Wednesday and basked in Pochettino’s adulation in the aftermath of the 2-0 victory.
The manager praised the midfielder not just for his instincts to score the goal but also his overall contribution.
Eriksen’s influence on Tottenham’s game cannot be emphasised enough. Only Kevin de Bruyne, Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas has managed more key passes than the Dane in the Premier League this season.
His heavy involvement in the team’s build-up play makes him absolutely vital and what’s even more impressive is his ability to manage that while regularly deployed on the right flank to accommodate other players.
Against Liverpool, Eriksen will be the main man the hosts will have to keep quiet.
LIVERPOOL NEED SADIO TO MANE UP
Despite the wealth of attacking talent at Liverpool’s disposal, Sadio Mane was the standout player last season.
The arrival of Mohamed Salah has changed the dynamic within the team though. The Egyptian has taken the league by storm, racing to 19 goals already for the campaign.
Mane on the other hand has endured a slump. His decision-making in the final third has been particularly poor of late and against Spurs, wasting valuable opportunities could prove costly.
He was anonymous in the defeat against Swansea as well but did enjoy something of a revival against Huddersfield when he led the way with four key passes and provided an assist as well.
With Philippe Coutinho leaving the club for Barcelona, Liverpool need Mane to rediscover his swagger, particularly in the face of quality opposition like Spurs.
DO SPURS REALLY HAVE THE EDGE IN MIDFIELD?
On the surface, it would seem like Spurs have the upper hand in midfield, especially after Liverpool were completely overrun in the reverse fixture at Wembley.
However, Liverpool have actually registered more passes and tackles than their counterparts in the league.
While Eriksen almost makes up an extra man in midfield as he drifts into the middle and does have the security of two defensive midfielders in Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier or Eric Wanyama, Liverpool’s midfield has evolved since the last time these two sides met as well.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brings a new dynamic to the middle of the park for the Reds. His driving energy offers them more mobility while his direct runs forward will see Emre Can and Jordan Henderson sit back and protect the defence.
VAN DIJK’S EFFECT ON LIVERPOOL’S DEFENCE
Despite scoring against Everton in an FA Cup win on his debut, Virgil van Dijk’s start at Liverpool has been a mixed bag.
That victory is the only one he’s featured in for Liverpool so far. In fact, he’s yet to be part of a clean sheet for the Reds as well after being benched for their 3-0 win over Huddersfield in midweek.
However, the Dutchman hasn’t played badly at all. He was one of Liverpool’s best players in their defeats to West Brom and Swansea.
He won a massive 19 headers over the two losses and made 13 clearances, even creating three chances and registering 224 touches, more than any other player on all fronts.
Keeping Kane quiet on Sunday will prove his biggest challenge in a red shirt yet but if he keeps playing the way he has been, the Spurs striker will be in for a tough day’s work.
Klopp’s men hold a marginal advantage as they sit third, two points ahead of Spurs, who are fifth, as the race to finish in the three places behind runaway leaders Manchester City intensifies with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal also in contention.
“The situation in the table, our targets, what we want to do and where we want to finish the season, it’s clear it is a very important game,” Klopp said on Friday, “These are these kind of six-point games.”
However, while Premier League clubs splashed out a record £430 million ($612 million, 491 million euros) in the January transfer window, Liverpool and Tottenham were more discerning than their rivals for the top four.
Despite making Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender in football history through a £75 million move from Southampton, Liverpool still closed the window with a huge profit following the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142 million.
Liverpool have lost just one of their last 23 home #PL matches against Spurs
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 2, 2018
Likewise, in spite of Lucas Moura’s late capture on deadline day from Paris Saint-Germain, Spurs remain in the bottom half of the Premier League table when it comes to net spend on transfers this season.
That relative lack of financial muscle, in particular compared to the two Manchester clubs, explains why Klopp and Pochettino have been widely lauded for the jobs they have done despite so far failing to win any silverware in England.
The need to keep moving forward makes qualifying for the Champions League a minimum goal.
“With Jurgen Klopp I think there will be pressure this time next year depending on where Liverpool are,” former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports.
“But if he gets Champions League football this season I think it’s a very good season for Liverpool.
“You can talk about trophies and winning the Premier League, but Liverpool have got to get back to being a Champions League club. Liverpool have been in the Champions League twice in 10 years.”
Plagued by inconsistency
The similarities don’t stop there as both sides have played some outstanding football, but been plagued by inconsistency.
Liverpool inflicted City’s only Premier League defeat of the season in thrilling fashion 4-3 two weeks ago, only to follow-up by losing to Swansea in the league and West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup.
A dominant 2-0 win over Manchester United in midweek got Spurs back in the hunt for the top four and was reminiscent of the displays that swept Liverpool and Madrid aside at Wembley earlier in the campaign.
However, recent draws with Southampton, who are in the bottom three, and West Ham, continued a habit of dropping crucial points against struggling teams.
The prospect of missing out on Champions League football would be even more untimely with Spurs set to move into a new 61,500 capacity stadium next season and only further fuel rumours that Pochettino and Harry Kane and Dele Alli, all reportedly courted by Real Madrid, could be tempted away.
Spurs are boosted by the return of two internationals, Ivorian Serge Aurier and England’s Harry Winks, from injury, but Moura isn’t expected to start at Anfield having made just six appearances all season for PSG.
Van Dijk is set to return to the Liverpool line-up after being rested in midweek with Dejan Lovren, who was substituted after just 31 minutes of Liverpool’s 4-1 thrashing at Spurs back in October, dropping out.
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— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 2, 2018
Provided by AFP Sport