The Reds overloaded our left side and exposed our high defensive line as it finished Liverpool 2-0 Spurs at Anfield.
Giving Liverpool the chance to jet forward off turnovers with space to operate in to is a recipe for disaster. Combine this with a high defensive line and leaving Sadio Mane 1v1 against Ben Davies, or even worse 1v2 as Nathaniel Clyne joined in, and this was a long and punishing evening. It finished Liverpool 2-0 Spurs but could’ve been a whole lot worse.
Overloading the Tottenham left
Last weekend we saw Toby Alderweireld play at left centre back. This put his cool head and solid positional experience to soften some of the impact. The move also let Eric Dier play on his more natural right side.
For some reason, Mauricio Pochettino switched the pairing to have Eric Dier on the left. It made for a calamitous evening. Dier and Davies were overwhelmed and overrun with little help from Son Heung-Min ahead of them. The South Korean, operating as the wide midfielder on this side rarely offered help. It was tough to know whether Son had been given a brief to cheat forward, as he had been away at Chelsea, or if he was just being lazy in defence.
Liverpool didn’t care as they overran this flank time and again. They were looking to get the ball quickly to Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne to overrun Ben Davies in the space that was being left. We played in to their hands as we tried to build up through the middle of the pitch. Liverpool trapped and pressed with their usual six men in here and then rapidly broke forward down our left as they had space to play in.
Throughout the first half, the focus of their passing after a turnover was Sadio Mane. With Son failing to help, Ben Davies was left with acres to cover. Roberto Firmino was drifting out to occupy Dier, leaving Mane to torch our left back.
Davies was in trouble every time Mane got the ball, but there were errors all over the pitch. Toby Alderweireld was being particularly impetuous. Alderweireld is a front foot defender, but even he was darting out of position to try and make tackles far too often. In midfield, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama were also being too easily bypassed. They often cover for our full backs going forward. However, having to shrug off two or three pressers saw them out of position and unable to recover with the speed with which Liverpool shifted the ball forward. Our defence was a total mess.
After several warnings, Liverpool took the lead as all of the above factors combined to unlock us. Victor Wanyama was surrounded on the ball and turned it over. Toby Alderweireld was impetuously drawn in to a needless challenge. Liverpool had surrounded Ben Davies 1v2 against Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. Our defensive line was way too high to counteract Liverpool’s speed.
The result was Sadio Mane running off Ben Davies and in to the space that our high line and Alderweireld’s impetuosity had created. Mane made no mistake to make it 1-0.
Not heeding the warnings, two minutes later it became Liverpool 2-0 Spurs as we made another error. Eric Dier pondered on the ball and was quickly stripped of it as Liverpool swept forward once again.
Dier didn’t have too many excuses. With us trying to play out through the middle of the pitch using Wanyama and Dembele, he was caught by Liverpool’s central six. The Reds had, as they were doing throughout the match, congested the middle of the park.
James Milner had sent a long ball forward, as he had done often in the match, looking for Sadio Mane. It was off target and Dier neatly brought it down. His pensiveness on the ball as he looked to play out from the back was his undoing. A moment’s pause for thought meant he was in trouble. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were closing fats and Dier was in caught. Mane relieved him of the ball and Liverpool were off on another counter attack with space to run in and few defenders to beat.
Hugo Lloris made two saves to deny Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino. He couldn’t make a third to prevent Mane finally lashing the ball in to the net to make it Liverpool 2-0 Spurs.
The Reds’ stealing of the ball and transition from defence to attack was good. What was more impressive was their spacing in the box as Lallana, Firmino and Mane hemmed the six-yard area to show good rebound control. Their spacing meant they could be first to every loose ball while we were panic defending.
Eric Dier’s error was the mostly costly, but he wasn’t alone. Kyle Walker made an ill-advised pass across our defence that set Sadio Mane in to almost complete his hat trick. Walker had done something similar in our 3-2 loss at Anfield in 2013 under Andre Villas-Boas. That time Stewart Downing ended up scoring to secure the Reds the points.
Like Dier, Hugo Lloris was then also guilty of pondering on the ball, showing that we hadn’t learnt our lesson. Lloris saw his kick charged down, but could fortunately clear the loose ball.
Tottenham formation switch
Seeing us being decimated, Mauricio Pochettino made a switch to our formation. He went to a 4-3-1-2 set up. Christian Eriksen dropped back to be flanked by Wanyama and Dembele so that the two powerhouses could help our full backs. Dele Alli operated ahead of the trio as a number ten with Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane up top.
The switch soon saw us create our best chance of the match. Ben Davies was able to get forward and spring Son running in-behind.
The South Korean pointed where he wanted the ball as he made the run and Davies found him. The outstretched leg of Simon Mignolet denied Son, as we again failed to find the corners of the net when shooting.
Long ball game
The formation switch helped us gain a foothold and we then started to impose ourselves more on the match. It came from going to the long ball to navigate Liverpool’s central six pressing us.
Harry Kane flicked-on Hugo Lloris’ long kick downfield on as he jumped against Lucas Leiva. Son charged through after the flick and was brought down to earn a free kick on the edge of the box. Curiously, Philippe Coutinho crouched down behind the wall to stop anything under it as Eriksen went over and clipped the roof of the net.
It was an indicator of a successful ploy though. Two minutes later and we went route one again. Toby Alderweireld this time sent the ball over the six pressing Liverpool players and Son once more made the run in-behind. This time he whiffed on the shot as he swung and connected with nothing but air. The move was good and positive though.
Second half slowdown
Mauricio Pochettino’s formation switch worked so far as it slowed Liverpool down. Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama had a bigger influence defensively helping our full backs. With Christian Eriksen between them they could get out wide easier to shut Liverpool down.
Harry Winks then replaced Eriksen. He got stuck in more defensively, winning possession back and moving the ball with purpose that got us attacking quicker. We still didn’t create any real chances though, which is where the 4-3-1-2 hindered us. A Harry Kane’s shot off the post when offside from a free kick is about as close as we came.
Liverpool also dropped off. Their first half exertions had clearly got to them with their speed to sweep forward affected. However, they were still very quick to close down and stop us playing out. With their central six against our trio in front of the back four, the game became congested. Back and forth turnovers were frequent.
As a result, the match became a yellow card fest. Seven bookings were dished out after the interval as the timing of challenges varied from late to frustrated to cynical.
There was time for one more defensive error as Hugo Lloris charged from his line. Georginio Wijnaldum tried to lob him, but the greatest danger to our goal was not the shot, but Ben Davies’ back pass. With his confidence gone from being abused by Sadio Mane, Davies sent his chested back pass beyond the forward rushing Hugo Lloris. Fortunately, our keeper recovered in time to stop an embarrassing own goal. The differing wavelengths that everybody was on in that passage of play summed up our woeful defensive performance.
It ended Liverpool 2-0 Spurs and it flattered us, as it really should have been more.
Liverpool 2-0 Spurs overall
This was our worst performance of the season. We played right in to Liverpool’s hands. In trying to build up through their press, and then losing the ball, we gave them space to work in.
We didn’t even attempt to patch up our banged up left side. Ben Davies is clearly no match for Sadio Mane and he was hung out to dry. An unnatural left centre back inside him and no help from his left sided midfielder gave Davies no chance. It got the punishment it deserved.
I’m not sure if its arrogance or naivety? We continue to go to our rival’s grounds and expect to play our open power game without respect to our opposition. Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, the Etihad and now Anfield, it continues to be the same. Our approach is rarely adapted in respect of the opponent.
Our Premier League record on the road against Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool under Mauricio Pochettino reads won (1), drawn (6), lost (8). This has to change if we are to make the next step, as does our approach, in the big away games.
Final score: Liverpool 2-0 Spurs.