After an excellent performance against West Ham on the weekend, tonight sees a tougher test for Andre Villas-Boas and the lads as its Spurs vs Liverpool.
The Reds are very much in a similar situation to us right now. They’re a team in transition under the guidance of a new young manager, who has his own footballing philosophy that is radically different to his predecessor.
Liverpool struggled at the start of the season, but are steadily improving, going unbeaten in their last eight Premier League matches. A sign that they are acclimatising to the way Brendan Rodgers wants them to play. So, what can we expect from the new-look Reds and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Liverpool?
Spurs vs Liverpool possession and passing
As we saw with Swansea last season, Brendan Rodgers is a possession-based coach. He is very much of the school of thought that if you have the ball, then the other team cannot score. He set out his Swansea team like that last season and he is doing so with Liverpool this term.
The Reds currently enjoy the fourth highest amount of possession in the Premier League with 56% per match. This is due to the fact that they shy away from the long ball and aren’t afraid to pass it backwards to go forwards.
This includes using the goalkeeper and defenders playing the ball and at the start of the season they made a number of mistakes that were punished. Carlos Tevez’s goal at Anfield after Martin Skrtel played a blind back pass is just one example.
So far on the season, Liverpool have made 19 errors leading to opposition chances, which is the third worst in the Premier League. From these, 7 goals have been scored and only Southampton (8) have conceded more from defensive slips.
They still continue in their philosophy of passing out from the back and as with Swansea last season, it is noticeable that teams who press against them have success. This means that they have to play a long ball out from the back that the opposition should win, or have to play their way out of trouble, which could result in a turnover.
Notice how Liverpool only complete diagonal passes to switch play against Swansea. The Swans win long balls played downfield from the result of pressure.
It was well-known last season that if you pressured Michel Vorm when he received the ball to stop him passing it short to his full backs, then you could create turnovers as he had to kick downfield. Brendan Rodgers has brought much the same philosophy to Liverpool and Pepe Reina is similarly looking for his full backs.
The Tottenham tactics of playing a high line and pressing from the front should work here, although we need to be wary of the ball played over the top. Raheem Sterling is exceptionally quick, and Luis Suarez has ‘sneaky speed’ to get in behind. Newcastle found this out when the Uruguayan plucked a long ball out of the sky, then rounded Tim Krul in their recent 1-1 draw at Anfield.
Suarez and Sterling
That brings us nicely on to Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, who are very much a one-two punch for Liverpool. Both are dribblers, both are quick over the ground and if we look at the Swansea game from the weekend, we can see how both like to work off of each other.
Raheem Sterling plays as a wide forward in Brendan Rodgers 4-3-3 formation, usually on the right. He likes to receive the ball quite high up the park, which allows him to dribble at the opposition full back.
Luis Suarez’s movement is his greatest asset and he can be a handful for defenders with his twisting, turning runs. He likes to drop off and play in between the lines, but he also drifts over to Sterling’s side a lot to receive the ball, as we can see against Swansea. He takes several passes from Sterling played past the full back deep in to the penalty area, which allow him to dribble and can mean a lot of the time that he shoots from wider angles.
He is also looking to get the ball down the inside left channel from Jose Enrique, which we’ll look at in a minute.
They are both dribblers at heart though and we can see against Swansea how Suarez attempts 12 take-ons, with the majority to the right side of the field. Sterling tries 5 of his own, as he attempts to get past the opposition full back and pull the ball back.
The Tottenham tactics may be to move Jan Vertonghen back in to the centre for this one. The Belgian would probably cope better against the movement of Suarez than the speed of Sterling. Kyle Naughton may well come back in to the side to deal with the wide man’s pace.
Liverpool have had trouble with the left side all season. Glen Johnson has played as an emergency left back, whilst Stewart Downing has also been getting a look in. Further forward, Fabio Borini started the campaign as the wide forward on this side, but since his injury, Suso and now Jose Enrique have had their chance.
The Spaniard scored his first goal of the season at home to Wigan and whilst Sterling is trying to get past the full back, Enrique is doing two things.
Firstly, with the ball, he is looking to cross from deeper locations or find Luis Suarez down the inside left channel. Secondly, when possession is over on the other side, he is looking to get in the box and score, as he did against Wigan and had an effort ruled out for offside against Swansea.
We can see against the Swans that when out on the left, he receives all bar one pass higher than the 18-yard box. From here he is looking to cross the ball or play it in down the inside left channel looking for the run of Suarez.
In Liverpool’s previous away match to Chelsea, Enrique was playing as a wingback in the first half, but moved to being a wide forward after the interval. We can see a similar thing happening in terms of where he receives the ball and where he is looking to pass and cross.
The only problem for Enrique, and Liverpool, is that they complete the lowest percentage of crosses in the Premier League this season with just 15%.
The Tottenham tactics will see Kyle Walker being tasked with marking the Spaniard. Walker has had trouble with opponents who drift in off their flanks as we’ve seen against Man Utd, QPR and Chelsea this season. Enrique will also be looking to do this, as he has shown when scoring against Wigan and his disallowed goal at Swansea. Further to this, he had a sliding effort that went past the post, so Walker will have to be aware of the Spaniard cutting in to the area when the ball is on Sterling’s side.
Glen Johnson’s overlaps and shots
Glen Johnson has been getting forward much more since his return to the right side of Liverpool’s defence. The England international was filling in at left back for much of this season, but now returning to the right, he offers an attacking threat on the overlap, or to cut inside and shoot.
Against Swansea we can see how advance up the pitch he gets, receiving a coupe of passes played in to the area behind the full back. He is also a threat to cut inside and shoot on his left foot.
Liverpool concede chances from the left
This could turn out to be a false friend for Spurs due to the aforementioned Glen Johnson playing out of position. Liverpool have conceded 50 chances through their right back area, 29 through the centre and 35 through their left back zone.
This is due to the fact that Johnson has been playing left back and Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly on the right have been attacked with success by opposing teams.
In Liverpool’s previous two away games to Everton and Chelsea, both the Toffees and the Blues created their opportunities through the Reds’ right back zone.
With Johnson back on the right, Swansea had success with diagonal passes slipped in through the channels down the centre. This is how Swansea create chances though, with Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge looking to manufacture opportunities from through balls. This does offer more good news to Clint Dempsey, who created two of our three goals against West Ham with fine passes played through the middle.
However, with Johnson moving back to the right, the opportunities now may come through the Reds’ left back zone, which is where Spurs are at their strongest.
We create 39% of our chances down our right, so the switch of Johnson away from this flank should play in to our hands.
It’ll be interesting to see if Liverpool moves Glen Johnson back to the left to match up with Aaron Lennon. If they do, then Gareth Bale will be key; if Johnson continues on the right, then Aaron Lennon should be the focal point for our attack.
Spurs vs Liverpool outlook
This will be a tough test against a team that is looking to retain possession and pass the ball around.
Liverpool can be got at though by pressing their defenders and stopping Pepe Reina passing the ball out through the full backs, forcing him to kick up-field.
Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling will be the major threats down the right hand side, along with Glen Johnson if he plays here. However, Jose Enrique sneaking in from the left will pose plenty of questions for Kyle Walker as i’ve previously analysed, and he has to be alert to the Spaniard’s movement.
Liverpool are slowly becoming accustomed to Brendan Rodgers’ system, even though they sit eleventh in the table. They’ve won three, but drawn five of their last eight Premier League matches and that is how I see this one ending.
Spurs vs Liverpool prediction: Spurs 1 Liverpool 1
Bets: Spurs 1 Liverpool 1 at 6/1 with BetFred