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.
Great analysis as always, Mark. However, a couple of points.
Given the very obvious way Klopp sets his teams out — the whole gegenpressing thing — surely Poch and the team couldn’t have been surprised that LFC would come out charging around at 100mph and throwing themselves into tackles. Jeez, you’d expect that from a Tony Pulis side.
But what we could and should have done was slow the game down immediately. Every foul, every goal kick, throw in… take as long as possible. Go down, lie on the floor for two minutes. Frustrate the frenzied fuckers. Get into their heads.
Also, the referee was a fucking disgrace. Milner should have got a card on 12 minutes for the brutal lunge that took Chadli out of the game and damaged his ankle ligaments. I’ve seen red cards given for less.
A card for Milner at that point would have put everyone in check, and made for fewer reckless fouls. Which in turn would have made for more football of a higher quality.
Admittedly, you can change the ref once the game has begun, but as Terry, Cahill, Costa & Co know only too well, you can definitely influence him. We’re playing too fair and being too stiff-upper-lip about the whole thing. When Milner cleaned out Chadli, we should have had six players around that twat with the whistle, brandishing imaginary cards and shouting in his face.
Liverpool were determined to stop us playing, and it mostly worked, because the referee was clearly working in “don’t disrupt the game’s flow” mode. Only there wasn’t any flow, just frenzy as Milner and Can threw themselves about.
I was glad to see Alli clean Milner’s clock for him early in the second half. The square-headed twat calmed down a little after that, I noticed. But I was Eric Dier had been on the pitch. Dembele was terrific with the ball, but I’d love to have seen Dier run through Milner and put him flat on his back.
Basically, we were naive about dealing with borderline violent conduct, and we need to be cuter in future.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Sharkio, it wasn’t that Liverpool were pressing, this has to be expected as it is a Klopp side after all, but the intensity and co-ordination of it was surprising at this early stage. Yes they are professional footballers, but to be that well drilled and in unison after just a few days with Klopp is a concern that in a few weeks they’ll be a very tough unit to play through. Like you say a tactic may be to slow the game down and as the season goes on more managers will find other ways to counter his setup. Our quick switches across the pitch did this as they lifted the ball over the mass of pressers and in to space, which causes them to expend more energy getting across the pitch. Other managers will have noted this and will add it to a list of tactics vs Klopp.
*Admittedly, you CAN’T change the ref once the game has begun,
I have to agree about the ref – he should have pulled out a card for someone earlier in the game, as not doing so just ended up causing the game to be full of cynical, annoying little fouls. I’m not sure about the Chadli injury though, and the actual foul Milner did get carded for didn’t really look like a yellow card offence. But players from both teams seemed to realise little kicks and tugs in the middle of the park weren’t going to get them into any trouble.
Not calling a foul on that (probably accidental) barge on Rose was criminal, though.
We should have expected that first 30 minutes of Liverpool players really trying to impress the new manager, and then gone for them as they burned out. We seemed a little surprised by it, though.
Also think Kane never looked like scoring, and he’s got a real problem there. As you say, he’s going for making solid contact, rather than trying to be clever about how he finishes (he did the same when playing for England). Everything is hard and on the ground now. He’s also shooting from some positions when he should be passing – you can get away with that if you’re scoring or you don’t do it too often, but if it starts to annoy your teammates…
Amusingly, if N’Jie had kept his shot on the ground, it probably would have gone in. Ahh well.
The space was out wide, and you’re right we did use it a couple of times, but Walker and Rose really weren’t given the ball enough. You’d think it would be a pretty easy plan B to drill into the team.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great comment Chris. Kane is shooting way too often and is ignoring a few too many passes now in preference for a pot shot and it is becoming frustrating to the point of being infuriating. It is going to start irritating team mates.
Oh, and was really impressed by Sakho – I don’t make a habit of watching Liverpool games, but he seemed real quality both in terms of positioning and composure on the ball. I can imagine that style works well alongside the (very effective) shirt-pulling thug that is Skrtel.
Dembele played well didn’t he! But the disruption to the system w/o Dier was notable, as well as the high press there was from the start a notable difference in that our central defenders rarely split as they do normally.
I wondered if the long ball was a deleberate ploy to avoid getting caught in possessiona and could be one of two reasons why POch was so infuriated about Chadli going off, Chadli is good in the air, with him and KAne to aim for those long balls would have had much better potential,
Also w/o Chadli and Dier we were unusually vulnerable to corners, despite this we survived (Kane’s striking is crap but he made two saving clearences) and went on to create 4 clear-cut chances.
Not bad, not great, but not bad.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Dembele was a really pleasant surprise. If he continues to play like this he will be a nice rotation option or even competition for Dier. His ability to shrug opponents off and protect the ball has never been in question and was very good. What did impede us was, as you say, our centre backs not being able to split as much as usual and that made them easier for Liverpool to press. Dembele didn’t drop in between them, but he doesn’t have the central defender skills to do this that Dier has should we lose the ball with our split centre backs exposed.
Dembele’s distribution, often a criticism of his, was decent but he did prefer to hold on to and either run with or pass the ball short. Poch does require his defensive midfielder to be able to pass over a greater distance and switch the play, something Dembele will have to improve. This did invite pressers in and contributed to us struggling to get out of our half to begin the game. On the plus side, he did hold on to it, but he didn’t turn it over, so there was something positive in this.
I’m not sure the long ball was a tactic. It seemed to be very forced due to a lack of options and our lads being closed down from more than one angle. To get rid and send the ball downfield is a last resort, but one we were harried into during the first 25 minutes.
Our finishing was a tad poor, but the enigma that is Mousa Dembele was absolutely majestic. And still we don’t know what to do with him…