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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Even without Mane, Lloris will be on his guard when Tottenham host bogey side Liverpool

Spurs keeper was excellent against Madrid but Liverpool will be a challenge during Wembley game

Tottenham Hotspur's French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was superb against Real Madrid last week. Gabriel Bouys / AFP
Tottenham Hotspur's French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was superb against Real Madrid last week. Gabriel Bouys / AFP

Having left a handsome calling card at the Bernabeu in midweek, Tottenham Hotspur now confront their bogey opponents at Wembley.

No club damaged Spurs’ sustained assault on last season’s Premier League title more than Liverpool, whose four points from club’s pair of meetings was more than anybody else, including champions Chelsea, took from Tottenham in 2016/17.

A fragile mind could dwell on that until it haunted. Mauricio Pochettino has, rather, focused his players on analysing the deficiencies Liverpool probed when Spurs were ambushed on the counter-attack at Anfield last February. That 2-0 loss remains the heaviest defeat of only three Tottenham have suffered in the Premier League throughout 2017.

The good news for Spurs is that Sadio Mane, scorer of both goals that day, twice pouncing on uncertainty in a Tottenham backline, will miss the game in London with a tight hamstring.

The bad news is that, buoyed by their seven goals at Maribor in the Uefa Champions League on Tuesday night, Liverpool are confident, and always capable of the sort of swift, catapult counter-attacks that make them especially threatening to a Tottenham tuned to press high up the field.

Spurs have suffered against Liverpool for a while now. No team have put goals past Hugo Lloris more frequently since the French goalkeeper arrived in English football than Liverpool.

Lloris had an excellent night in Madrid, with a show-reel save with an outstretched foot from his compatriot Karim Benzema, the only goal he conceded in the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty. “He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” Pochettino says of his captain.

The best in the Premier League? Spurs had the tightest defence in it in 2016/17, and, this calendar year, Lloris has kept more clean sheets in the league than he has had matches where he conceded.

There have been errors from time to time, against Manchester City in February, when both City goals were attributable to misjudgements from Lloris. There were handling and positional flaws in the 2-1 loss to Chelsea at Wembley in August and most conspicuous of all was the mistake while not on duty with his club, a badly executed safari well out of his area that cost France two points in World Cup qualifying, against Sweden in June.

He knew it would be interpreted as a symptom of his frustration at the failure of Tottenham to catch Chelsea at the tail of a long, sapping domestic season.

Lloris’s territory has always extended well beyond the edge of his penalty area, and in the five years since he joined Tottenham and found himself jousting for right to own the gloves with the veteran American Brad Friedel, in a squad that also included the Brazil international Heurelho Gomes – now of Watford – and a keeper boasting Italy call ups, Carlo Cudicini, he has become an exemplar of the adventurous, modern would-be sweeper-keeper.

The manager who first made Lloris Tottenham’s No 1, Andre Villas Boas, used to push his defenders high up the pitch. The manager who has made Lloris feel a Premier League title will one day decorate his resume, Pochettino, has developed that style.

Lloris, light on his feet, grew up as an accomplished tennis player.

A privileged background gave him access to the best, sun-kissed courts as a boy in the south of France. His reflexes and tall frame helped him become good enough at the sport he was encouraged to consider a professional career. Serving and volleying, he made the sort of split-second calculations between baseline or rush-to-the-net that a modern goalkeeper has to replicate.

“You have to think maybe there will be two or three balls behind the defence every game, so you have to be ready,” Lloris says.

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Read more

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Against Liverpool, a goalkeeper perhaps expects more than two or three. Even without the zip of Mane, Mo Salah will have the wide open spaces of Wembley to accelerate across.

To combat his runs from the right side of Liverpool’s attack, Spurs now have the option – after a long absence recovering from an ankle problem – of Danny Rose. The left-back returned to action as a substitute in Madrid.

Pochettino, who used a 3-5-2 formation in Madrid, teased his opposite number, Jurgen Klopp, with a suggestion he might surprise with his chosen line up. History pushes him towards some fresh thinking for this fixture.

In seven Premier League meetings, Pochettino has yet to finish as the winning manager against Liverpool, the team Lloris least likes to see running at him.