Two Champions League hopefuls faced off at White Hart Lane in a bid to keep pace with the clubs above them. Both sides knew, given the competitiveness of the league this season, dropping points against a fellow contender could be disastrous. AVB had steadied the Spurs ship after a run of poor games, but the lack of goals and a poor home form still persisted. Rodgers’ side had been free scoring and winning at home, but a not so impressive away form (last away win coming in September) left many questioning their true ability. It was a chance for both to stamp their authority on the league and a top 4 place.
Tottenham were on the back of a victory over Anzhi in midweek in the Europa League, a match in which Soldado scored his first hat-trick for the London club. Liverpool on the other hand, came in to the game after a 4-1 victory over West Ham, but were without their injured captain Steven Gerrard (in addition to the injured Daniel Sturridge). It meant Luis Suarez was given the captain’s armband for the first time.
Tottenham Hotspur 0-5 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Naughton (Fryers 45′), Capoue, Dawson, Sandro (Holtby 30′), Dembele (Townsend 61′), Paulinho, Chadli, Lennon, Soldado
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Skrtel, Sakho, Lucas (Alberto 79′), Allen, Henderson, Coutinho (Moses 90′), Sterling, Suarez
A solid Liverpool midfield, led by Lucas
In the absence of Steven Gerrard, Liverpool lacked a creative spark from midfield. It was upto the more attackingly positioned Coutinho and Suarez to add that creativity into the side. Lucas, Allen and Henderson though, still had a duty perform, which they did so with impeccable quality.
Lucas was fantastic at defending against the Spurs attack, proving to be more than just adept at covering the back four. He constantly cut out the Spurs attack from creating key chances. While he got some crucial blocks in and around the box, it was right in the centre of midfield where he proved to be most effective, putting an end to Spurs attacks before they even reached the final third.
As seen above here, Lucas was always quick to to defend against an approaching Spurs’ attack, he was assisted by a solid defensive shape from the back-four and tireless fellow midfielders. Henderson, Allen and Coutinho, all of whom were regulars in Liverpool’s attacking runs were also able to adequately discharge their defensive duties. The Liverpool midfielders were thus successful in crowding out Spurs’ attacking zones and preventing them from playing their football, or completing passes to build up their play.
The 3 Liverpool midfielders (and Coutinho) combined well to win back possession for their side and quickly recycle it to play it out of their own half. A quick one-two passing game amongst the midfielders was sufficient to easily and calmly get the ball away and start an attack. It’s the sort of football Rodgers’ has been trying to implement in his Liverpool side, those nifty little triangles arising out of good understanding between the players.
The above is a perfect example at the midfield’s hardwork. After Liverpool lost possession, Allen chased Dembele down, making a clean tackle from behind, the lose ball came Lucas’ way and before a Spurs’ player could put excessive pressure on the side, he played a first touch short pass onto Henderson’s path who shifted his zone (from defense to attack) upon Allen winning the ball back. Coutinho (at the bottom of the picture) quickly made a run into attack along with Henderson, who had possession. It was in this way that Liverpool successfully countered Spurs’ attack even before it started.
Joe Allen made an incredible 7 tackles, 6 of which were right in the centre of midfield, helping his side regaining possession (illustrated above) on a number of occasions. Lucas made 4 interceptions in the centre of midfield, further preventing Spurs’ attacks. The Liverpool midfield completed 166 passes between them at impressive completion rates- Allen (90%), Henderson (92%) and Lucas (94%).
Henderson and Allen’s forward runs
While the Liverpool midfielders were exceptional in their defensive play and distribution, they were also particularly impressive in their attacking display. Gerrard, besides creating opportunities, was vital in making runs into the box. Henderson and Allen were able to replicate this against Spurs. Henderson, who has vastly improved, made regular bursts forward, contributing to the two first half goals. He pressed the Spurs defence for the first goal, winning back possession and seeing the ball roll onto Suarez’ path.
The second goal, though coming after a series of rebounds, was made possible by Henderson’s forward run. The ex-Sunderland man made a darting run towards the box as soon as a long ball was played towards Coutinho, who managed to find his run with a deft first touch.
Joe Allen too was regularly making bursts forward as Lucas was more than adequately protecting the back four and the midfield area. More importantly, the Welshman was composed in the opponents half and was able to pull off quick passes in attacking zones. Something which he desperately lacked earlier on in the season.
Luis Suarez drops deep
Liverpool’s captain for the night scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season as he continues to be the league’s stand out performer. The Uruguayan has led by example throughout the campaign and finds himself at the top of his game. Often it is just a spark of brilliance that separates Suarez from the rest of the players. He did well to take his chance for both the goals, the second one being a classy finish over Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal.
But the Uruguayan works hard to create chances for himself. Constantly moving, constantly chasing down opponents, and always looking to get into the game. As seen above, what Suarez did exceptionally well against Spurs, on a number of occasions was the way he dropped deep from the box when the ball was played out wide onto the flanks. It not only allowed him to collect the ball, but at the same time, helped in creating spaces for the midfielders to run into. However, more often than not, this space was quickly covered by the Spurs’ defenders. It meant Suarez was left unmarked around the box and with the chance of creating a chance for himself or his team-mate.
In the illustration above, Suarez has pulled away and instead allowed Henderson to make a move forward. Coutinho who has cut inside, is expected to make the through ball to Henderson. Spurs have that bit covered, while Suarez was left completely free, untraced, allowing Coutinho to make the pass to Suarez, who always finds a way of troubling the opposition.
It was from this area that Suarez was able to play a number of through balls into the forward running players. Usually, Liverpool had atleast 2 players making runs into the box. Alongwith Suarez, Sterling and Henderson also created opportunities by slipping through balls onto the path of their teammates’ forward runs. Luis Alberto too made one such through ball, resulting in Suarez’ classy second goal.
Wasteful Spurs wingers
It’s hard to find any positive, or anything in an attacking sense for a side that lost 5-0. But Spurs did attempt to create some opportunities as the game wore on. As expected, AVB’s men attempted to make use of their pacey wingers in creating chances. Particularly, in the first half, Chadli was often found on the far left, skillfully dribbling at the Liverpool defence before cutting it onto his left foot and attempting a cross. Spurs even managed to find Chadli in acres of space as Johnson ran forward. Chadli however failed to created any meaningful opportunity despite getting into dangerous areas. His crosses were either blocked, or had too much on them to meet a team-mate.
In the second half, it was Lennon’s opportunity to see a lot of the ball, on the right flank. He too ran at the Liverpool defence and attempted to play short crosses into dangerous areas, but failed in doing so. When balls were played in from deep, Liverpool’s central defenders (especially Sakho) did a fantastic job of shutting the opposition out.
Raheem Sterling’s mature performance
Young Sterling hasn’t really sparked much this season, or in 2013 for that matter. But in front of the England boss at White Hart Lane, the youngster put in an impressive shift, worthy of a starting berth. Sterling was active throughout the game, chasing down opponents and always willing to take on his man. It was his impressive showing down the right flank that prompted AVB to take Naughton off and replace him with Zeki Fryers.
Much like Liverpool’s system, Sterling was constantly pressing the Spurs players, forcing them into errors and winning possession back. Liverpool were constantly looking to counter Spurs’ attack (the easiest and straightforward way of catching Spurs out) and Sterling, with his quick pace, played a vital role. His runs forward were proving to be a nuisance for the Spurs defence, as they failed to cover the gap created by his bursts forward.
He didn’t play as an out an out winger, not attempting too many crosses (just 1 successful), but rather preferred to move more centrally and make runs into the box. Noticeable, Sterling looked very confident on the field, calm and composed (regular experience does that for you). He was always looking to have the ball at his feet and attempting shots on goal.
Where does that leave them?
Liverpool need to ensure they keep up their good pace through this festive period. If they can, they’ll find themselves in a good position in the second half of the season. Spurs, despite 6-0 and 5-0 loses this season, have had some decent results (beating teams you’d expect them to beat, exception being West Ham). If they somehow managed to get points of the top sides, they too can sustain themselves at the top. Sacking AVB won’t be the solution.
What do you think? Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below.