A quite shambolic display, once again full of defensive errors, saw us crash to another Premier League defeat with it finishing Liverpool 4 Spurs 0 at Anfield.
There were two keys to this game. The first was our errors that gifted them a two-goal lead. The second was Liverpool looking constantly to win the ball back and then move it forward quickly, often for a runner through or in-behind our defence.
Why so narrow Spurs?
Tim Sherwood obviously expect Brendan Rodgers to start with his 4-4-2 diamond formation, as from the off we were extremely narrow. However, the Liverpool manager went 4-3-3 and his wide forwards were looking to stretch and get in-behind our full backs.
It manifested itself in the second minute. Philippe Coutinho received the ball in central midfield and Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling were wide outside our narrow formation.
This wouldn’t be a massive problem if our full backs and wide midfielders were racing out to close down, but they weren’t. Danny Rose was slow out to Sterling and Christian Eriksen was laboured in tracking the over-lapping run of Glen Johnson.
Liverpool love to attack down the right side with Johnson, but with both of our players being slow on their defensive rotations, he was able to get his cross in. To compound the first two defensive errors, the ball then flicked off Jan Vertonghen and in off Younes Kaboul.
The goal did highlight one of Liverpool’s main philosophies, something that we looked at in the Tottenham tactics before the match. That is when the ball is won back or moved in to midfield, that they hit one of the front men early. Coutinho had three to aim for and went with Sterling, but it’s something they continued to do all game.
Liverpool hit the runners
Liverpool were a constant threat to run either through or in-behind our defence. They were pressing the ball effectively with their front three and in midfield. Once they won it back, it was transferred vertically to one of their three quick forwards who were always on the move.
They did it time and again, as Suarez ran in-behind from Coutinho’s pass here.
The player on the run can then either shoot or square the ball across the box for the other forwards.
Suarez just failed to pick out Sturridge in the above example, but Liverpool were a constant threat to do this all match.
Their second goal was the result of an awful error from Michael Dawson. However, the passage of play started with Steven Gerrard’s long ball forwards looking for Suarez running beyond the defender.
Soon after Suarez almost added a third as Hugo Lloris clawed his header on to the bar before Bentaleb cleared off the line. That passage of play also started with Raheem Sterling playing a long, low pass for Daniel Sturridge running in-behind.
Liverpool’s direct transition game doesn’t rely on balls pumped high forward, but more carefully guided lower passes.
The lengths of the lines on Luis Suarez’s passes received map show how Liverpool were moving the ball to him very directly. The key is that the ball is moved across the ground rather than through the air. This means that he can win the foot races rather than have to get in the aerial battles.
Liverpool possession counter attacks
If Liverpool can get a lead on teams, then this opens the opposition up to their possession counter attacks
The Reds like to move the ball around at the back and when they have a lead, the opposition are often forced to come and chase.
This means that once they can bypass this, they have a whole load of green space in which their attacking players can run in to.
From there, the direct vertical passes for the forwards running through or beyond the defence can be played.
Liverpool’s third goal arrived in this way. The Reds had the ball at the back and our players were drawn in up field.
The role of the keeper and dropping Steven Gerrard in-between the centre backs should always give them additional players in this zone to navigate any pressure.
Simon Mignolet played the ball to Martin Skrtel who then spread it out to Daniel Agger. The Danish international then moved it out to Jon Flanagan. Suddenly the full back was out in space in his own half and on our back four with just Nabil Bentaleb screening.
Liverpool now had plenty of space to work in. Flanagan delivered the ball to Coutinho, taking Bentaleb out of the game and leaving the Brazilian to travel unopposed to the edge of our area.
Coutinho dispatched his shot low and in to the corner of the net, but the goal was created by the possession play of the defence to take so many of our players out of the game.
Lack of Tottenham tactics
Despite being knocked on the back foot extremely early, it was difficult to decipher just exactly what Spurs were trying to do.
Tim Sherwood had gone with a very aggressive line-up, as he went for his usual ‘can do a bit of both attacking and defending’ box-to-box midfield players in the pivot. Ahead of them he went with a central winger in Nacer Chadli who would drift out to the flanks as Eriksen drifted inside from the left.
We’ve seen Nacer Chadli in this central winger role for Tim Sherwood in previous matches. He has been drifting out to the flanks on both sides to create overloads and crossing situations for himself and others. Here he did that, but as a team, we didn’t really create anything or have many targets for our crosses.
Our best chance did arrive from this dovetail movement between Chadli and Eriksen. The Belgian drifted out to the right to release Kyle Naughton, who picked out Christian Eriksen moving in to the centre of the Liverpool box. Eriksen faked Glen Johnson, but saw his shot blocked by Martin Skrtel.
Other than this though, our chances were few and far between, with most arriving after the game was out of sight.
Stopping Steven Gerrard
Although our tactics weren’t great and the performance was full of errors, it’s always good to finish on something positive.
Steven Gerrard has been dictating matches this season with his passing from his new deeper midfield role. Spurs at least did something right in this match by limiting his presence.
The Liverpool skipper was always constantly being picked up by Roberto Soldado or Nacer Chadli, meaning he couldn’t get off his usual range of passes. He was forced to go backwards or square and couldn’t get a stranglehold on the game.
The tactic was right, but it didn’t matter much with our defensive play more than gifting Liverpool enough of a lead.
Liverpool 4 Spurs 0 overall
Liverpool ran out easy winners without really getting out of second gear.
They were gifted the early lead that they desire so that they can play their possession counter attacks from the back. Further forward they were hitting direct vertical balls for their forwards to run on to either through or beyond our back line.
Us playing without a holding midfielder gifted them the space to work in. Being so open was a dangerous game against the Premier League’s top scorers.
This decision also seemed curious in light of Tim Sherwood’s comments afterwards.
He said our “game plan was to keep it tight for as long as we could and hopefully they would get a bit edgy.”
That didn’t really seem like much of a set up and our defenders played like the nervous ones. But, why go so open in midfield with no holding player if you want to keep it tight?
Bad errors were made on the pitch, but also some pretty big ones were also made beforehand in the dressing room.
Final score: Liverpool 4 Spurs 0.