At some stage this season, we may get to see the real Liverpool, but until then, it will remain a guessing game as to what Jurgen Klopp’s team really are capable of.
The current campaign is only 14 games old for Klopp and his players and it has already lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.
Arsenal have been hammered 4-0 at Anfield, Maribor subjected to a 7-0 destruction in the Champions League — the biggest away win in Liverpool’s illustrious European history — and there was also a spirited, fighting performance on the way to a 3-2 Premier League victory at Leicester.
But there has also been the 5-0 humiliation at Manchester City, which was exacerbated by Klopp’s failure to close the game down in a damage-limitation exercise following Sadio Mane’s red card for a foul on City goalkeeper Ederson.
There have been too many draws and uninspiring failures to beat Burnley, Sevilla and Manchester United at Anfield, while the much-maligned defence has had off-days at Watford and in Moscow.
One week Liverpool are breathtaking and seemingly unstoppable, the next they are devoid of ideas and one defensive howler away from a bad result.
They are anything but predictable, which is why Sunday’s encounter with Tottenham at Wembley could see Liverpool emerge with anything from a glorious three points to another humbling defeat.
Spurs, on the back of their impressive 1-1 Champions League draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in midweek, have their own problems to overcome, particularly at Wembley, but there is a much greater sense of cohesion and belief within Mauricio Pochettino’s team.
They have a sound defensive unit, a top-class goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, undoubted quality in midfield and, of course, the goals of Harry Kane up front.
It is no surprise to see Spurs sitting just behind Manchester City and Manchester United in third place in the Premier League, but they go into Sunday’s game with a woeful record against Liverpool which only adds to the sense of unpredictability surrounding the fixture.
Spurs have now failed to defeat Liverpool in any of their last 10 meetings, a run stretching back to November 2012, which is a remarkable sequence considering the growth of Pochettino’s team in recent seasons and the fluctuating fortunes of Liverpool.
Indeed that 10-game streak encapsulates Liverpool’s strengths when the going is good — when they find their groove, they have shown they can defeat any opponent.
The City defeat aside, facing the top clubs appears to bring the best out of Liverpool, perhaps because their default setting under Klopp is to attack, press high up the pitch and ask questions of their opponents which inferior teams are unable, or unwilling, to pose.
It is only when it goes wrong at the other end of the pitch — as against City — that Liverpool fall flat on their face. But when a team plays with such heavy focus on attacking over defending, they are always going to be vulnerable.
Until Klopp can address that problem, Liverpool will continue to be a Jekyll & Hyde team and it is the German’s philosophy which seems to be holding them back.
His suggestion after last week’s dismal 0-0 draw against United that ‘you could not play this way at Liverpool but it’s ok for Manchester United,’ betrayed a naivety and romanticism in Klopp that does not meet with the reality of the modern game.
No team has won the Premier League with an unreliable defence, no matter how many goals they may score at the other end. Newcastle United’s title collapse in 1996 is testament to that, but at times, Liverpool resemble that Kevin Keegan side with their refusal to check their adventure for the sake of just a little more solidity and discipline at the back.
And for Klopp to suggest that defending resolutely would be going against Liverpool’s traditions is to overlook the strengths and qualities of the club’s greatest teams, who won four European Cups in the space of seven years in the 1970s and 1980s, not just by defending well, but by defending from the front and regarding clean sheets as highly as match-winning goals.
With Mane set to miss Sunday’s game through injury, Liverpool will need to defend better against Spurs than they have done on their travels this season because the loss of the Senegalese forward takes away the team’s ability to hit opponents with blistering pace on the counter-attack.
But, make no mistake, they still possess the attacking options to hurt Spurs and extend their unbeaten run against the north Londoners to five years.
It is just a question of which Liverpool will turn up. They will certainly go for the win and attempt to make life uncomfortable for Spurs, but whether they cut loose and dominate as they did against Arsenal, or collapse in the manner that they did at City, nobody can predict.
It is why they as dangerous to themselves as they are to Tottenham.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_
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