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Last Time They Met: Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol looks ahead to Liverpool's hectic fixture list in the next month but believes their squad will be able to cope.
Mark Ogden and the FC crew discuss Liverpool's challenging stretch after the international break and the pressure to win trophies.

Liverpool get their first real examination of the season on Saturday as they face a "top six" side, Tottenham, for the first time.

There is almost a "super league" within the top flight in England now as the six clubs that finish above everyone has turned into a boring formality. Over the last nine seasons, 48 of the 54 available top-six places have been snapped up by the clubs currently considered the giants of England: Man United, Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham.

Special attention is therefore always placed on the clashes between these clubs. In Jurgen Klopp's first full season in charge at Anfield, he somehow managed to finish top of this "super league." The glamour matches are important for morale as much as anything, but it didn't go so well last season and there are a number of reasons for this.

Liverpool 2016-17 greatly benefitted from no European fixtures, meaning the famous Klopp gegenpress could be fired up for longer after a week's recuperation, more often than not. The addition of extra games when playing this style made for heavy legs.

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There was also an element of surprise initially. The three-pronged forward system Klopp utilised caught sides off guard but in 2017-18 that began to wear off. Liverpool won only 10 of the 30 points available against the best teams home and away, as opposed to the 20 they had collected the year before.

The likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte countered the pronounced Klopp style better. Their clubs -- Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea -- all beat Liverpool at home and drew at Anfield, while there was a crucial difference for Liverpool's home victories over the other two: their opponents made no effort to stop them playing.

Pep Guardiola's eventual champions Manchester City had good reason for taking no defensive steps, given their own excellence all year; while Arsene Wenger either thought his Arsenal side were similarly gifted or it was beneath him to change.

So it was really down to complacency. Or too much belief in their own game. They made it too easy for Liverpool and Liverpool took advantage.

But though he has yet to face a real test, is Klopp doing anything differently this season? The squad is stronger of course -- though you would have expected £45m utility man Fabinho to have featured at some point -- and there's been change to the backroom staff too.

Liverpool's recent gritty second half performances against Crystal Palace and Leicester offered hope to those who felt in the past that Klopp's aesthetic overpowered the ultimate point of sport: to win.

They have improved in defence, which gives them at least a fighting chance to stay in tight games against the best -- but for Alisson's hideous error against Leicester, they wouldn't have conceded any goals at all.

And they have maximum points after four games. Supporters will regard that as a healthy sign of improvement, with Klopp's Liverpool often having squandered some easy -- or easier -- points in past campaigns.

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The biggest clashes of the season often turn on small details. Last season saw Sadio Mane sent off at Manchester City, when the visitors had already created opportunities to score themselves. At Manchester United and Tottenham, Liverpool failed to switch on from the start and were 2-0 down in both games before realising what had hit them. Focus, and that mysterious but essential gift to turn up for the biggest occasions, seemed to desert the Reds most of the time.

That seems a strange thing to say about a side that reached the Champions League final, but it is something Klopp will be conscious of and eager to fix as soon as possible.

Tottenham will be a stringent test of whether Liverpool can do so. An early kickoff away from home against quality opposition, just after the internationals, was perhaps not the test Klopp would have chosen. But he had to face it sooner or later and a good result could lay the foundations for when the side faces the other "top six" stalwarts.

LONDON -- Arsenal coach Unai Emery told a news conference that he is still in the dark about whether chief executive Ivan Gazidis plans to join AC Milan.

Gazidis has yet to announce his intentions after being courted by Milan for several months, and Emery said he still does not know whether his boss is set to leave the club -- even though they still speak regularly about club matters.

"Every conversation with me [and Gazidis] is speaking about us [Arsenal]. About our performance, about our ideas, our process," Emery said on Thursday. "Then for his future, we didn't speak. And I think it's one question for him. ... I don't know any other news from him."

Gazidis led the process of hiring Emery in May after Arsene Wenger stepped down as Arsenal manager but is now wanted by Milan's new owners, the Elliott Management hedge fund.

Emery, meanwhile, is staying focused on Saturday's trip to Newcastle when the Premier League returns following the international break.

It was the first since Mesut Ozil made himself unavailable for Germany selection and Emery is hoping the playmaker will benefit from the extra rest and training sessions.

"The players have the habits to play in the international break, in important matches, defending their identity, and when one player is finishing that, I think it is also good for them to focus only on their team," Emery said.

"This focus every day with us, a relaxing three days off at the weekend. Mesut, like other players, works very well here and also working together to improve things. Mesut, I look at him with the focus totally here."

Emery also said he gets along "very well" with Ozil after he had to deny reports of a rift between the two last month when the midfielder missed a game due to an illness.

And he also denied another report from this week claiming that he had ordered the Emirates Stadium groundsman not to water the pitch ahead of the season-opening game against Manchester City to help thwart the visitors' slick passing game.

"It's not true," he said. "This is the moment to say to you that I have a good relationship with Mesut and I didn't say to the groundsman not to put water on the pitch, it's not true. We are continuing our process with our positive things and our work."

Emery did confirm that the club are in talks with Nacho Monreal about a new contract, and said he wants to see the full-back stay at Arsenal after his current deal expires next summer.

"After two months I can say that I am very happy with him, because he is 32 years old but I think physically, with his performances with us in matches, he is playing with a very good level," Emery said. "For me it is very important, I think we need to find a new contract with him to stay with the Arsenal team."

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