It takes us time to figure out Jurgen Klopp and his system as our Premier League clash finished Spurs 0-0 Liverpool at White Hart Lane.
A frantic game short on quality finishing will see Jurgen Klopp take the headlines but us rue missed chances. This wasn’t your usual dull 0-0 as both teams were intent on playing in their coach’s style and enforcing their tactics.
Press vs Stress
For all of the Jurgen Klopp-mania going on beforehand, it was amazing to see just how much information that Liverpool’s new coach had got across to his players in such a short period of time. The Reds had a good command of the initial phases of his system, especially with their pressing.
Liverpool pressed high right out of the gate and it caught us by surprise in terms of its intensity and how to deal with it. It caused us a lot of stress as it was designed to do two things. Firstly, to force us in to long clearances that could be hoovered up by Liverpool’s centre backs. Secondly, to stop us playing our usual passing game in to and through central midfield.
The Reds were so intent on closing down our centre backs when they had possession of the ball that Liverpool were hounding them in packs. This was forcing both Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to often clear long as they had no other option. This would turn the ball over and see it come straight back as Liverpool looked to move play forward quickly.
Both Alderweireld and Vertonghen were frequently besieged by Liverpool players. This would see them either just having to clear out of the defensive zone or go back to Hugo Lloris. Our keeper would then have to send it long looking for Harry Kane who was 1v2 against Skrtel and Sakho.
As we know, Mauricio Pochettino likes us to build from the back and that starts with Hugo Lloris looking for a short pass to our wide splitting centre backs or the defensive midfielder dropping in. Liverpool’s press was so ferocious that often Lloris would just have to clear long. When the ball came back, Liverpool’s direct play saw Lloris on several occasions have to race from his line and intercept or clear.
For the first 25 minutes we were struggling to get decent possession. In the Spurs vs Liverpool preview we’d looked at how Brendan Rodgers had regular success against Mauricio Pochettino by playing a diamond system. This got four players in to central midfield to counteract against our plethora of players that drift in to central areas. Jurgen Klopp didn’t go with a diamond, but played a 4-3-2-1 system to get five players in to the central area and stop us passing through here.
Liverpool would close down our centre backs and then have James Milner and Emre Can shoot out to shut down our full backs. The system gave us trouble and the pressing led to three Liverpool corners within the first ten minutes. The third of which was caused by directly closing Danny Rose and finished with Divock Origi heading against the bar.
Playing through the press
The initial intensity of Liverpool’s pressing caught us by surprise. To be fair to us, we were trying to press them, but because we often had to clear long, we couldn’t establish the compactness of team shape to go after Liverpool with any conviction. That all changed due to two things. Firstly, the Reds started to tire, but secondly, our cross-field switches started to work to use the space.
Liverpool had been crowding the centre and the sprints of Emre Can and James Milner to get out to the wide areas on our full backs started to tell on them as the first half wore on. The space for us was in these wide areas and as we started to look for the long diagonal switches, which have become a feature of our play under Mauricio Pochettino, these areas opened up.
These long diagonal switches were working to shift the ball across the park in one pass rather than two or three. The quickness of them navigated the Liverpool press as it attempted to crowd us in. Danny Rose was starting to find these spaces and this saw Milner first foul him by the corner flag in an energy sapping run back and then trip him on halfway to earn a yellow card.
Surprisingly, we didn’t go after the wide areas more, but the switches in play were wearing Liverpool down. This saw them start to give up space between the lines as they struggled to retain their defensive positions. Coupled with some of their own defensive miscues, which resulted in turnovers and the ball coming back quickly to catch them on the hop, we then started to create chances.
A turnover at the back saw Harry Kane get free between the lines to set up Clinton N’Jie for a shot across Simon Mignolet with the outside of his boot, which was well saved.
With the space now appearing, Christian Eriksen then became a factor as he drifted in to areas between the lines whereby he could start to affect the game. Here he was able to ghost in to space and fire a shot at Simon Mignolet.
Eriksen then almost fed Harry Kane in with the deftest of through passes that just saw the striker caught initially on his heels, inches away from latching on to it.
Minutes later and Eriksen would find his man from getting between the lines again, as he put in Kane for the chance of the match.
Harry was clean through but his recent lack of goals really told on how he set up for the shot. He was entirely focussed on making a good contact with the ball with his less-favoured left foot rather than checking back on his preferred right. The result was a hard shot that was easily kicked away by Mignolet. A more composed Kane would’ve taken his time and curled the ball in at the far post with his right, as the keeper was so deep in his goal that he would’ve had no chance.
Liverpool had started the half much stronger, but we were now firmly in the ascendancy and the whistle came at the right time for them to get in and regroup.
Second 45 stalemate
After a frantic and tactically exciting first half, I expected to see spaces open up much more in the second that we could exploit. Liverpool had seemed tired, but the interval gave them a chance to get their second wind.
After the break and the pattern for much of the second half emerged immediately. We were intent on closing Liverpool down and forcing them to clear long out of their half.
However, they were intent on doing the same to us, as they continued to try and hound our centre backs or stop the ball moving in to or through midfield.
The result for both teams were a number of downfield clearances that resulted in a foul from either the attacking player impeding a defender or from trying to stop the defender clearing or passing out. When the ball was actually played through midfield it often resulted in an interception or a turnover and the play would go the other way only to be snuffed out by another turnover.
This turnover-turnover-foul sequence saw both teams cancel each other out and chances were limited. There were 16 fouls in the second half, which saw the referee try and let the game flow, but end up just making a complete mess of some obvious decisions. James Milner completely obliterating Danny Rose was the worst and saw Liverpool gain their best chance of the half. It allowed Divock Origi to get down the side of an ailing Kyle Walker and unleash a fierce left-footed drive with plenty of power, but fortunately straight at Hugo Lloris.
One of our better chances in the second half also resulted from a foul. Harry Kane was tugged down by Martin Skrtel to stop him getting away down the line. Christian Eriksen swung in the resulting free kick, which agonisingly dropped just too far ahead of Toby Alderweireld and straight in to the arms of Simon Mignolet.
The passage of play summed much of our game up, as our lack of a finish really hurt us. Our best opportunity of the second half came as Christian Eriksen once more got free between the lines and then drifted across the pitch and laid the ball off for a Harry Kane drive.
Kane saw his shot deflected and pushed away by Mignolet for a corner.
Lack of influence
Both managers made changes, Mauricio Pochettino arguably too late. Our coach had to use a substitution for the injured Nacer Chadli in the first half, which maybe influenced his thoughts for the rest of the game. With Kyle Walker going down and requiring lengthy treatment in the second, he was potentially holding his changes up his sleeve for fear he may only have one left if Walker broke down again.
Pochettino waited until the 86th minute before his first tactical switch in sending Andros Townsend on. He moved Christian Eriksen out to the left and put Clinton N’Jie up top ahead of Harry Kane. It was an attempt to get some speed up front as we were looking for longer out balls from the back with Liverpool closing us down. With barely any time on the clock, the change had little impact.
Spurs 0-0 Liverpool overall
I was surprised at just how much Jurgen Klopp managed to drill in to his players in such a short space of time. For us, facing a new manager who has not had that much time with his players makes it difficult to second-guess just what to expect. Sure we’ve all watched and know how Klopp teams play from his time in Germany, but it would’ve been difficult to predict just how aggressive, effective and co-ordinated his team would be with their pressing in his first match in charge. In a few weeks time, opposing coaches will have had a good look at Klopp’s system, will now expect this and will figure out ways to counteract it.
Liverpool’s aggressive start definitely gave us problems as we sought to solve how to move the ball around it. Once we figured it out, we created the more clear-cut chances in the match, but again that lack of finishing them off really hurt us. Being clinical in front of goal once more hindered us from turning one point in to three and is why we have 5 draws, the most of any team in the Premier League this season.
Final score: Spurs 0-0 Liverpool.