Spurs 0 Liverpool 3: quick transitions from a polished diamond

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.


Liverpool’s diamond closes the space.

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.


Enclosing the widemen.

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.


Liverpool ball recoveries.

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.


Kaboul misses the free men.

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.


Closing off central areas.

Here, Andros Townsend cuts inside with little chance of getting through due to the sheer number of players in the area.


Townsend has nowhere to go.

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.

Vertical passes

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.


Over the top for Ade.

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.


Ade flicks the long ball on for 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.


Henderson heads for the inside right channel.

Kaboul really did commit a huge error, playing Henderson onside, as he was able to look right across the line.


Kaboul plays Henderson onside.

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.


Kaboul’s pass is intercepted by Henderson.

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.


No one attempts to stop Moreno.

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.

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22 Responses to Spurs 0 Liverpool 3: quick transitions from a polished diamond

  1. Ses 1st September 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    its all well and good coming up with alternative and diffrent formations etc, but if this was really effective then surely there must of been a way to counter, and you or pochettino really couldnt see this happening, if so i think they would have you on coaching roll?!

  2. YouShubes 1st September 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    As far as I could tell the only way to beat the diamond is to outflank it with quick wingers who will attack the by line and put in crosses into the box.

    I think the formation better suited to play against liverpool that day would have been a 4-4-1-1, as we did under Harry.

    Using with holtby in the Luka position with Capoue as the DM, and Lennon and Lamela on the flanks, with Eriksen in the roaming Rafa position, with Ade up front.

  3. Ses 1st September 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Your missing my point! if it was as definitive as you say or think, you would be on the coaching set up/staff!! thats the reality with everyone who feels they have the answer, but its not like that, look at redknapp and hoddle!

    • SP 1st September 2014 at 10:19 pm #

      Maybe he is…maybe he’s a football coach, or maybe a football writer, hell, maybe he’s just a very well-informed, knowledgeable and astute amateur. I don’t really care. It’s interesting, it makes sense and it’s better than A. N. Angry Fan shouting ‘We shud av scored more’.

      Another good article, Mark. To put it simply, I said to a mate that the area before the centre of the pitch was the only place were we seemed to outnumber them. Once we hit that central section they always seemed to outnumber us. When we did retain possession, they had time to retreat and defend en masse.

      And I agree, even non-Kane fans were expecting him to come on.

      Tant pis :(

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 11:23 am #

        Thanks for reading and the kind words SP. Yes Liverpool did have time to reatreat and defend in numbers, which made it hard for us to break through and get men between the lines like we did against QPR. As Chris points out, their persistent fouling also slowed us down when we did make any sort of breakthrough.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Is it definitive? no. Nothing is ever definitive or ever works in football if you don’t take your chances. We created our best chances from going over the top of the diamond, therefore i would have taken a chance and pursued this method. It would have made us in to a route one long ball team, would it have been pretty? no. Would it have been effective? Maybe, if we take our chances.

    • Bretto 2nd September 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      Have you sat in room with a number of coaches talking tactics? They have their own twists or strategies that they think will work against a particular situation. These are often based on their experiences and their philosophy. Can all of them be correct? Maybe, maybe not, but they swear to you point blank that this is THE way. If their way comes off, they feel that it was their tactics. If it doesn’t come off, they put it down to any number of variables (execution, refs, conditions, opposition etc). Even the pundits do that as well. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a certain self-belief in your own thoughts and opinions? Is there?

      (On another note: rather like chess, a specific philosophy of playing football will channel the coach into solving a certain problem in a certain way (in my opinion). The good coaches are ones that get past that.)

      That’s the beauty of the game and the beauty of talking about this side of football. It can be complex and theoretical but we will never if it would have worked. Certainly makes it more interesting than just moaning about the scoreboard. I see the game in a certain way and its enlightening to read articles from a different viewpoint. Maybe you should just enjoy it for what it is or have a bex and a lie down mate.

  4. Chris 1st September 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    You weren’t wrong about those quick transitions! There really was a lack of getting down the outside and crossing, and as you say when you bring Andros on and put him on the right, you can’t be expecting him to start putting crosses in (can you?).

    Watching for a while, it did show that Liverpool are just much more advanced in their working of the system than we are. And we all expected that. What was interesting to me was that they seemed to have 2 or 3 players who could beat our defence 1-on-1. Which means you have to (at least) double up and then you’re going to leave spaces.

    And what really struck me was that Liverpool have very much developed their deliberate fouling. The Allen grab of Lamela was an obvious extreme, but throughout the game they always got close, got hands on, pushed, pulled, etc, just to break up any momentum (which we were struggling to develop anyway).

    Conversely, when they had the ball, we would drop off, drop off, and then maybe stick a leg in – either an obvious foul, or more often it would be skipped over. It just seemed extremely naive.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 11:16 am #

      Andros did try and go down the outside after a while, but looked really uncomfortable having to try and create something with his right foot.

      Yes Liverpool were adept at breaking up the game and momentum through fouling. Seems like something they were instructed to do if there shape was broken.

  5. Iskender 2nd September 2014 at 3:42 am #

    Great read once again, Mark.

    A fair number of our players underperformed, but I guess this is predictable when you’re outnumbered in the midfield. Kaboul’s pace might be forever reduced and we have to deal with it but the man absolutely needs to find his focus back. Townsend makes me less and less optimistic about the prospect of him growing a football brain. As for Bentaleb I have my doubts if he’s ready to compete against top oppositions, he looks unsteady against a decent pressing. The kid has talent and is already good enough against weaker oppositions though. Last but not least, i’m sure Lloris has been working for years on his distribution but more has to be done on this issue.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Iskender, glad you enjoyed it. I think Kaboul will slip down the pecking order once Fazio is integrated in to the system. He’s been off his game ever since he returned at the start of the 2012 season and the injuries he’s sustained seem to have caught up with him. It’s a shame as he was a decent prospect when we signed him, the first time.

      Townsend is a weird one for me. The problem is that he has speed and can go by people for fun, which are two excellent attributes and often ones you cannot coach – speed especially. So do you back him to develop in to a good player as he is still young? or do you offload? There will always be someone interested in him and he will probably do well at a mid-table club, but is he what you need to take the next step?

      The jury is very much out for me and at 23 he may well develop more of a footballing brain. He may also just stay the same ie a guy that has potential but could never put it together.

      Bentaleb is going to be a good player and looks decent against lesser sides. He always looks out of his depth against the big teams and shouldn’t be playing against them right now (unless we send him on loan to another prem club for experience). We looked much better and balanced when Dembele came on.

  6. Laurie Malyon 2nd September 2014 at 6:44 am #

    Very interesting article. It made lots of sense to me. A really astute analysis borne out not just by diagrams but also the feel of what was happening on the day.
    Wish people would stop moaning. Poch will need at least a sesson to bed in his patterns and to change attitudes of the players. So sit back and enjoy watching it evolve.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 11:36 am #

      Thanks for reading Laurie. Patience is key!

  7. tony 2nd September 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    thanks for the post Mark. I only watch the games on TV/online so your post game analysis points out things i miss watching from my sofa! Also, your pre-match analysis helps for a better understanding while watching the game so i am very grateful!

    I’ve never been one to pay much attention to Jamie Redknapp’s analysis but i thought he was spot on when he described us as ‘tippy tappy’. Given how we played against QPR this was surprising but reflects on Liverpools defensive organisation and tactical nous (as you point out); spurs’ players lack of ability on the ball; and mental strength.

    Given how we were running in to dead-ends in the middle and how we couldn’t really affect the game with our substitutions, i wonder if Lennon might have been a better substitute instead of Townsend. Someone with a better work rate was obviously needed against Moreno and he could bring some width to our play on the RHS. Of course, in recent performances Townsend has had more impact than Lennon, particularly as a sub, so i can’t hold it against Pochettino for not including him in the squad.

    Although its hard to take any positives out of being outplayed (again!) i think this was an important reality check that it will be at least a year before we are competing against the top 4 of liverpool, man city, arsenal and chelsea. Not because of Pochettino who i think is absolutely the right man but because a lot of players aren’t good enough. The talented players we have are still young early 20’s showing potential (e.g Lamela, Dier, Eriksen) and wont deliver every day like the more experienced mid-late 20 years olds (e.g. hazard).

    Kaboul always has a mistake in him; Capoue cant move the ball forward quickly (i actually think he wouldnt say no to a cup of tea while waiting to decide his next pass all while allen, henderson and stirling come charging towards him); and Ade seems to relish one on ones in the halfway circle before inevitably passing backwards rather than one on ones against a defender while bearing down on goal.

    I dont doubt the player’s commitment but there doesn’t seem to be one player in the team that i look at and think he’ll really fight it out to the death. No gerrard, terry, zableta. For those who think sandro was that man he may look intimidating but his lack of mobility and heavy touch made it easy for teams to pass around him.

    As bad as it is too lose things aren’t too bad – two goals were from individual mistakes (dier and townsend) and one from bad defending (Kaboul, capoue), and while they had glaring chances chadli or ade shouldve scored too – we should be realistic that we wont be finishing the season any higher than 5th and Poch needs at least a year to get us playing his way, with his (and franco and daniel’s) players.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks for reading Tony. Apologies your post didn’t appear straight away. It went in to spam, not sure why as you’ve not used any dubious language or posted dodgy links!

      Lennon could have been a change, as we needed natural width on both sides. Townsend on the left would have been better for him, as on the right he was just running back in to traffic.

      You make a good point about the age of our recruited players, for the last few seasons we have gone after players mainly under 25. The Premier League game is getting faster and requires more stamina and strength, so this is one of the reasons why. Also I believe that Levy wants a good young team that plays exciting football to fill the extra capacity in the new stadium, whenever that gets built!

      Pochettino needs time, and as you say it is a reality check that keeps our feet on the floor. Interested to see howw he handles the return at Anfield having had two looks at Rodgers’ diamond with Southampton and now us.

  8. Bretto 2nd September 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    Nice article Mark. The one thing that I notice in Rodgers Liverpool side is that they tend to try and put extreme pressure on the ball in the 1st 15 minutes of each game. They press everywhere every time. I think this is a tactic to try an create the pressure at the start and prevent the other side getting their rhythm. It seems to work as they have a really good record when it comes to scoring quickly at the start of the game. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t try to counter that a bit better at the start.

    I thought Bentelab looked out of his depth and really did not know what to do. Holtby may have been a better option with his aggression. I was also hoping that Kane started on the left in the Rodriguez position – I think we would have got away with it as I thought Moreno was more aggressive than Manquillo in getting forward. This would have provided a diagonal outlet for Kaboul and Capoue when trapped in the centre.

    Can’t wait to see what Fazio and Stambouli can bring to the side.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks for reading Bretto. Good comment. Liverpool do tend to blitz teams in the first 20 minutes attempting to get a goal or two ahead. As you say, this can throw the opposition off their game, it can also alter or kill their tactics if they are suddenly two goals down. If you can withstand this initial wave, then you can be in good stead for the last 15 minutes or so, as this is when they tire. Unfortunately, we just didn’t move the ball quickly enough (or were in a position to counter as we were down on the scoreboard) to wear them out after the initial wave.

  9. Laurie Malyon 2nd September 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Meant season not session! :)

  10. John Williams 4th September 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I can’t disagree with what you say. Another well researched and put together article. Thanks for that.

    It was I thought a very pedestrian performance overall with Kaboul looking like his legs and mind were not working (and he passed that attribute on in lesser or greater part to the rest of the team). He and Capoue take my ‘not man of the match awards’ for their slugishness. Incisive passing was virtually non-existent mostly I guess because people weren’t getting open. Consequently Eriksen and Lamela continually ran into trouble.

    Naturally MP will need time to hone in on who he can rely upon and who he needs to whip into shape or ship out. My hope is that Dier / Fazio will be able to replace Kaboul who has looked horrendous. It’s tough to make a call based on YOUTUBE but Stambouli appears talented, tough and has a great engine. Hopefully Stambouli or Demebele can replace Capoue who only appears to be any good against teams that are lower in the talent / appetite pool than the Liverpools of this world.

    However I am encouraged by most of the well targeted transfer activity and of course the potential shown against QPR and to a lesser extent West Ham. So, let’s see how it goes until Christmas and then provide MP with the funds to fine tune in January. Please, please Maurice get us someone who can play up front like he means business and as you say Mark, drop the inverted wingers thing every now and then.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th September 2014 at 4:05 pm #

      Thanks for reading John. I think Kaboul will be dropping down the pecking order once Fazio gets acclimated with the system. He’s making far too many errors for a while now and taht’s why Pochettino went after Dier and Fazio.

      Capoue seems to play at his pace, i’m hoping that this is one that quickens as the season goes on. He didn’t play much last year and he has the talent, so he may still be adjusting, but i’m hoping he gets better as he gets more used to the pace of the English game.

  11. Alex shelf side 4th September 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to write this, its a good read.

    I wanted to ask about the spell before half time when we got in to them, what thought was working for us then?

    Also i wanted to point out something thats been doing my head in for awhile, how is it that we keep getting battered by local rivals and teams that we are meant to be competing against and we end up with NO yellow cards. It drives me nuts. How can you watch sterling or Sturridge or whoever run round you in circles and not sooner or later just put them in the stands?! Just to send a message? They literaly kicked lemela allover the park even though they are a supposedly better team?! I would start fining them for not getting booked a minimum amount of times!!’ Thank god we got rid of sandro, all mouth and no action and the capoue is a total ballwatcher. I read somewhere that stambouli had the 3rd most tackles in france last season so i hope that he brings some balls too this team!!’

    Totaly agree with getting rid of 2d aka townsend, i dont look at stats much but his must be absolutely shocking.

    Also what u said about bentaleb against the big teams even applied against qpr, he gave the ball away in his own half 3 times… Not too great for the role hes meant to be playing..no

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2014 at 7:27 pm #

      Good questions Alex. The spell before half time saw us move the ball much quicker. This was either over the top of the diamond (as with the Chadli chance where he shot straight at Mignolet) or down the left where Danny Rose was overlapping Nacer Chadli as the Belgian moved inside. Half time really stalled our momentum, as we were just starting to get a foot hold.