Brendan Rodgers’ diamond formation traps us in midfield, springing quick counter attacks, as our Premier League clash finishes Spurs 0 Liverpool 3.
It started out as a barometer test of how much progression we’ve made this season. It finished with the reading that we still have some way to go with the final score of Spurs 0 Liverpool 3 at White Hart Lane.
The key to the Reds’ performance was the use of their diamond midfield. They set traps with the four players in there; then sprung forward with great speed in order to hit us quickly in the transition.
Rodgers’ polished diamond
Brendan Rodgers has a number of formations up his sleeve that he has worked on during his time as Liverpool boss and he seems to utilise them for specific teams.
In his first encounter with Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton, a 1-0 defeat at Anfield, Rodgers went with his tried and trusted 4-3-3. However, the Liverpool boss had underestimated the Argentine’s system. Pochettino tries to get four men in to central midfield by having players switch positions, and thus the Reds were overrun and came up short.
Recognising this for their second meeting, Rodgers rolled out his diamond formation in order to match fire with fire and have four men in here as well. Liverpool ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, despite conceding possession by 57% to 43%.
I speculated in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Liverpool prior to the match whether Rodgers would go to his diamond again. He did and the same 3-0 result ensued. Once more, Liverpool were content to concede possession (61%-39%) and looked to break forward with great speed having won the ball back in midfield.
The key once again was Rodgers’ tight knit diamond of Gerrard, Allen, Henderson and Sterling, who dominated play in the middle of the park. The four men stayed together in the defensive phase to stifle our movement and passing.
As we can see here, the diamond is perfectly set up with no space for our advanced midfield trio of Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen to drift between the lines. This was a key feature of our 4-0 win over QPR last weekend.
The diamond remained in tact all game and as the ball moved out to the flank, so did this tight unit, as they suffocated our slow movement across the pitch. Liverpool often had the ball carrier encircled in wide areas.
This allowed the Reds to win the ball back, usually midway inside their own half, at the edges of the diamond. The players in these spots, Henderson and Allen, were moving too quickly for us as they shuttled out from the centre to help on the flanks.
Once possession was regained, Liverpool could then spring forward with their usual great speed, as we’ll look at in a minute.
Spurs slow ball movement
The key to beating any diamond midfield is to move the ball quickly from side-to-side in order to stretch it and drag it around. We were just too slow to move the ball for vast periods of this game.
As we can see here Younes Kaboul has possession and is looking to go long. However, his elevated pass was easily headed cleared by Javier Manquillo, when he actually has Eric Dier and Erik Lamela in space to the top of the screen. The ball just needed to be moved quicker out to the flanks.
This theme continued all game, as we often tried to go down the centre and were met with an abundance of Red bodies. Here we can see Christian Eriksen confronted by Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Balotelli.
Here, Andros Townsend cuts inside with little chance of getting through due to the sheer number of players in the area.
The problem of ball movement was two-fold. Firstly it wasn’t being moved quickly enough. Secondly, with inverted players in the wide positions, we were moving back in to the centre where all the traffic was, as the Townsend example above highlights.
The decision to bring Andros on and have him play from the right was a curious one, as Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela had no joy drifting from out to in. If ever there was a game for natural-sided wingers, this was it.
Although we dominated possession, the diamond was stifling us. Of the very few chances that we created, the best two came from balls that just simply went over the top of it.
A speculative pass over the top released Emmanuel Adebayor and caught everybody out. As the ball bounced up, Ade had the perfect opportunity to just loft it over Simon Mignolet, but he could only put it over.
The second saw Adebayor involved once again, as another long ball forward went over the diamond and saw the Togolese striker flick it in to the path of Nacer Chadli.
The Belgian international ran from between the lines, but fired straight at Mignolet with the other side of the goal seeming easier to aim for.
In the Europa League against Limassol on Thursday we saw Mauricio Pochettino go for a second striker in the number ten position with Paulinho. You can read more about this version of the Argentine’s 4-2-3-1 formation in an article on Mauricio Pochettino’s use of forwards.
Interestingly, Pochettino also went for this second striker number ten in his first encounter with Rodgers, the 1-0 win at Anfield, as he played Dani Osvaldo off Rickie Lambert.
With us creating our two best chances by going over the top of the diamond, I really thought that he might introduce Harry Kane for Christian Eriksen at half time.
Kane would’ve take up the number ten role and sat in the middle of the three advanced midfielders between Chadli and Lamela. This would have given us two solid players in the air on the field in Adebayor and Kane, with fast runners Lamela and Chadli working off them.
Alas it never happened, Townsend came on for Eriksen and the flow of the game didn’t change as he continued to cut inside.
Liverpool trap and hit
Townsend’s introduction and bad first touch were a synopsis for Liverpool’s three goals in the game. The Reds trapped in midfield and then sprung forward with great speed to hit us when we were vulnerable in transition.
Their first came as they won the ball back on the sideline. It was swiftly moved forward to Daniel Sturridge.
The diamond formation allows the outer points of it to burst forward through the inside channels. That is precisely what Henderson did to get free through channel between Vertonghen and Kaboul, with Capoue trailing.
Kaboul really did commit a huge error, playing Henderson onside, as he was able to look right across the line.
Henderson played a neat ball across the box for Sterling to find the net and open the scoring.
Liverpool’s second arrived just after half time from a very soft penalty decision. Allen flopped, but Dier’s outstretched arm was incriminating enough to concede the spot kick.
However, the passage of play once more started with a Tottenham turnover. Younes Kaboul tried to play the ball through the tightest of corridors to Christian Eriksen and the diamond once more pounced. Jordan Henderson intercepted and found Daniel Sturridge.
Again it was Liverpool’s midfield trapping and then swiftly moving the play towards our goal.
Their third was an ill-advised take-on by Andros Townsend and he too turned the ball over in midfield. This time it wasn’t the diamond causing the mistake, but full back Alberto Moreno.
This didn’t change the mentality of Liverpool moving the ball quickly forward once they had it, as the Spaniard then charged towards goal.
Andros Townsend couldn’t catch him, but Younes Kaboul also didn’t come across to engage him. The first rule of defending is to stop the ball. With our players running straight back towards goal, nobody challenged Moreno at all.
Three goals, all from Liverpool trapping in midfield and breaking swiftly forward at speed.
Spurs 0 Liverpool 3 conclusions
In terms of a barometer test, this game showed we still have a long way to go. Liverpool are definitely further down the road, but Brendan Rodgers is in to his third season with his side.
After being caught out by Rodgers’ diamond with Southampton, I rather expected Mauricio Pochettino to have learnt something and have a plan B up his sleeve. Plan A saw us control possession, but we didn’t move the ball quickly enough to stretch the diamond.
Moussa Dembele was a good substitution as it created some drive and strength through the midfield. Andros Townsend wasn’t as it just introduced another inverted wide player who ran in to the heart of the diamond.
Pochettino definitely has us going in the right direction. Lessons do need to be learnt though, but it is still very early in the season.
Final score: Spurs 0 Liverpool 3.