Defeat was tough to take at Anfield, given the commanding position we had built in the game after going behind. However, two defensive lapses cost us as it finished Liverpool 3 Spurs 2 in our Premier League encounter.
The game was really played out in three phases. Liverpool controlled the opening half hour and went in front. Then we responded through our narrow midfield, allowing us to take a stranglehold of the match until Joe Allen was introduced. The substitution afforded Liverpool a change in shape to their more natural 4-3-3 and introduced another passer in to the centre of the park. The switch, along with two defensive meltdowns, allowed Liverpool to comeback in the last half hour to steal all three points.
Liverpool control the first 30 minutes
Brendan Rodgers initially set his Liverpool side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Luis Suarez playing off Daniel Sturridge.
As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Liverpool vs Spurs, the Reds want to move the ball quickly to Philippe Coutinho and Stewart Downing in the wide positions. From here, the Brazilian likes to play through balls, whereas the Englishman comes back inside and can either slide the ball in, cross or hit Glen Johnson on the overlap.
With us playing a high line and for once starting quite slowly, after our Europa League exertions, Liverpool were trying a number of through balls to get in-behind. Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez both had opportunities after being fed in, whereas Stewart Downing was caught just offside after he almost snuck through one-on-one.
Both Sturridge and Suarez were playing high and both looking to get in down the channels between centre and full back and this is where their goal arrived.
Predictably it started from a ball being quickly moved out of the centre to Coutinho in a wide position on the left. The Brazilian handled the ball as it flicked up in a challenge with Kyle Walker, but nothing was given and this is where the defensive errors started.
Jose Enrique burst forward from left back and lost Moussa Dembele to receive a pass forward from Coutinho. The Spaniard was then allowed to drive forward before slipping the ball through to Luis Suarez who Jake Livermore had stopped tracking.
The Uruguayan had made another run between full back and centre back, as he charged down the alley between Walker and Dawson to finish. The warning signs, with Liverpool trying a number of through balls down the channels, had been there for the first twenty minutes.
Liverpool had started much the stronger through the energetic pressing of Suarez and Sturridge, along with Downing and Coutinho from the wide positions. This created a number of turnovers and really had the Reds on the front foot, but also allowed us back in to the game.
Both Suarez and Sturridge were playing very high up and once the ball was past these two, we were able to control the next half hour through our narrow midfield.
Spurs respond to take over the centre
Without Aaron Lennon, Andre Villas-Boas deployed Jake Livermore alongside Scott Parker in the centre of midfield and Moussa Dembele coming inside from the right. With Gylfi Sigurdsson playing his new role of also coming inside, but from the left, we had a very narrow midfield.
Andre Villas-Boas went this way to stop Liverpool from dominating in this central zone with the passing of Gerrard, Lucas and Suarez – who should have been dropping deeper. The fact that Suarez was playing so high up meant that we took control of this area and came back in to the match.
Moussa Dembele was really the driving force in taking back control, as his side was the target for most of our passing. The Belgian was coming narrow when we lost possession, but then moving out towards the flank when we regained it. Once the ball was at his feet he was trying to come back inside on his favoured left and then driving down the inside right channel.
Whilst the Belgian’s dribble-drives to his left are his trademark, Liverpool also had the problem of Gareth Bale dropping in on this side too from his number ten role.
The Welshman would take the ball from Dembele or Walker and then also look to drive down the inside right channel. They were trying to get at the space between Jose Enrique and Daniel Agger.
Dembele and Bale combined down this inside right channel to create for Gylfi Sigurdsson to scuff a shot wide, before they linked up again to make it 1-1.
The equaliser arrived from the combination of these two once more. It was also compounded by the fact that Gareth Bale had just been off receiving treatment and came back on to receive the ball in a wide, advanced area and unmarked. It was one of the few times he got the ball in a true wide area after being paid close attention in the centre.
Moussa Dembele took a chipped ball from Kyle Walker beautifully under control and drew Lucas and Enrique towards the corner flag. With Bale coming back on the pitch unmarked, he was there to whip in a cross to Jan Vertonghen, who made no mistake with his second headed goal in as many matches.
Spurs try to press home advantage
With Tottenham controlling the centre of midfield, we took the lead from the right side once more after Gareth Bale was again the subject of close attention. A hand up in the face from Lucas allowed him to curl in another ball in to the box from teh resulting free kick. Jamie Carragher partially cleared and Jan Vertonghen guided the ball beautifully in to the corner, 2-1.
Spurs had now taken control of this right side through Dembele and Bale and the two combined once more to set the Welshman galloping in to acres of space. Gerrard and Carragher were left in his wake and a neatly chipped ball with his un-favoured right foot found Gylfi Sigurdsson at the back stick.
The Icelander brought the ball down nicely, but his shot was deflected on to the post. It was the first time Gylfi had got himself the ball in the box down the left side, creating his other shooting opportunities by coming inside.
If Gylfi had scored, then it surely would have sealed the three points with no way back for Liverpool.
Liverpool switch to 4-3-3
The introduction of Joe Allen didn’t swing the game, but it allowed Liverpool to switch back to their usual 4-3-3 formation to get back in the match.
Prior to the substitution, our narrow midfield was controlling Gerrard and Lucas with Suarez playing so high. Removing Coutinho for Allen and shifting Suarez out to the left in a 4-3-3, meant that Liverpool had an additional passer and it pushed Steven Gerrard further forward.
Whilst Liverpool didn’t start to create chance after chance, it did take back possession in this zone where they previously had no one and allowed them to press more effectively.
The pressure and fatigue we were feeling, combined with Steven Gerrard now up in this zone, proved to be our downfall.
Prior to Kyle Walker’s ill-advised back pass he was under pressure from Suarez, whilst Daniel Sturridge had pushed up on Michael Dawson. Stewart Downing, the eventual scorer was also playing high, whilst Steven Gerrard had pushed on to Moussa Dembele.
The strike really swung momentum, as Liverpool hadn’t looked like getting back in to the game prior to this. Suddenly the Reds were gaining control through the presence of having a third player in this central zone.
With pressure mounting our legs seemed to go from Thursday nights exertions. Only Jermain Defoe will know what he was doing when he controlled the ball on his chest and hooked it back in to our box.
After an error from one tired full back levelled the scores, another from our centre forward and other full back combined to give Liverpool a penalty.
Liverpool 3 Spurs 2 conclusions
This was a game that ebbed and flowed in three stages.
Liverpool took control through their greater energy and looking to slide in balls down the channels between our high line.
Our narrow midfield, effectively playing with inverted wingers, allowed us to take back the initiative with Luis Suarez playing so high. Moussa Dembele coming inside with his dribble-drives on his left foot, along with Gareth Bale dropping in on this side, allowed us to create through here
The introduction of Joe Allen rectified this for the Reds, getting another man in the central zone and giving Liverpool better balance.
The game really was won, and lost though, on two individual defensive errors, making the defeat tough to take when we had played so well.
“We lost control of the game when things looked to be going our way, which was more down to a couple of mistakes we did rather than to Liverpool’s merit – although they worked very hard.”
The overall performance to come back and control a Liverpool side that had started so brightly was pleasing. However, questions should be asked over Andre Villas-Boas’ use of his subs bench?
The manager has made so many good changes in recent weeks; West Ham 2 Spurs 3 was a great example, so it’s puzzling that he didn’t act sooner here.
Final score: Liverpool 3 Spurs 2