Outnumbering each other in central zones saw both teams have periods of control as it finished Spurs 1-1 Liverpool at White Hart Lane.
Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp run similar systems, albeit from different formations. Both managers focus on control of the central zone and look to manipulate their opponent from there. The Reds appeared to have asserted control at White Hart Lane, only to be pulled back by Tottenham’s smarter movement of the ball. It finished Spurs 1-1 Liverpool in an enthralling encounter.
Control of the central zone
Mauricio Pochettino is used to seeing us have control of the central zone. Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen drift in to join Dele Alli, whilst Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama squeeze up. We have five players in here, outnumbering the opposition who usually only have three or four. It leads to having men between the lines and our full backs are free as the help defence gets sucked in.
Liverpool is a different animal to most sides. Without a recognised centre forward, they can have six players in here with their strikerless 4-3-3 formation. This meant that they often outnumbered us, giving us no time on the ball and little space between the lines.
Trying to run with the ball too much in the first half compounded our frustration. Alli, Eriksen and Lamela all wanted to move with the ball at their feet and were frequently dispossessed.
Not only was each team trying to gain the middle ground, they were also pressing each other. Spurs initially started the better. With Dier and Wanyama squeezing up behind the advanced midfield trio, the ball was frequently regained in the Liverpool half.
This didn’t last long though, as Liverpool started to force us back. They did it through pressing their front six high and narrow. This saw Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama immediately under pressure as we tried to play out.
We’d looked in the match preview at how Liverpool encircle, hem and close with numbers in their pressing and they were doing that here.
Rather than go long from back to front or directly out to our full backs, we tried to play through it. This was a mistake. Our first warning came with just four minutes on the clock. A poor, over hit pass from Jan Vertonghen was miscontrolled by Christian Eriksen. As he tried to handle the hot potato that had been sent his way, he was pounced upon.
The ball squirmed away from Eriksen and he was immediately under challenge from Adam Lallana. With our centre backs still split and leaving space to run in to, Liverpool didn’t hang around. Lallana knocked the ball to Sadio Mane who in turn found Firmino and then Coutinho.
With the goal gaping, Coutinho tried to give Michel Vorm the eyes and direct his shot in at the near post. Going one way, Vorm stretched out a leg and made an incredible save. He then had the presence of mind to dive on the rebound. Top-notch keeping.
Liverpool through balls
Liverpool’s press was causing us no end of problems as we were frequently trying to play through it. With numbers in the middle of the pitch that we’re not used to encountering, they won the ball back and looked to immediately break forward. They did this by looking for the runs of Sadio Mane with early through balls.
Mane was positioning himself to match up on Jan Vertonghen. He is a speedster and a match for anyone and Vertonghen could not stay with him. Twice in the first half and once in the second, Mane went through only to be denied by Michel Vorm sprinting from his line to slide in and clear.
Our back line was trying to play high and condense the playing area, but this gave Mane space to run in to behind it. Vertonghen also picked up a yellow card as he tried to buffer Mane at the halfway line as another pass went in-behind him.
After the interval and Mane would have the ball in the net after getting away from Vertonghen. Liverpool’s pressure was again responsible for another loose pass. Eric Dier gifted possession away, but fortunately Adam Lallana was offside as Liverpool swiftly swept forward.
Matip’s cross-field passes
If a Liverpool goal was going to come, it looked as if it would be from a through ball. However, with all of the activity in the centre, they ended up taking the lead from missing this congested zone out.
It came from Joel Matip’s cross-field passes. The centre back was often looking for this longer pass to spring Philippe Coutinho. Our press was moving in and Coutinho would be in space or 1v1 on the other side of the field.
Another one of his passes set up Liverpool’s equaliser. It was aimed for Coutinho again, as he indicated he wanted the pass and started to run in-behind.
The pass looked over hit and ended up going over Coutinho’s head and was picked up by Roberto Firmino. Eric Dier, now at right back, had been sucked in by Coutinho’s run. Erik Lamela was left to track Firmino. Lamela was late to react and didn’t have a good angle to the ball. This saw him behind and chasing Firmino before an unfortunate clip of feet caused the Brazilian to trip himself and go down.
James Milner coolly converted the penalty and Liverpool was ahead.
Rose v Mane
The battle between Danny Rose and Sadio Mane was a constant throughout the first half. Mane had to frequently track Rose back. This saw him foul our full back on a number of occasions and he was lucky to still be on the field after several late and reckless challenges.
Rose getting free down the left was one of the few good things we did. With Liverpool’s narrow press, both our full backs were the out ball and they frequently had space to get forward.
The issue we had was when Kyle Walker went off. Eric Dier replaced him and this had two impacts on our team. Firstly, it meant we lost more control in the centre without Dier and Wanyama in here. Secondly, Dier doesn’t have the quick changes of speed and engine that Walker does to get up and down the line. What Dier does have though, is arguably a better crossing delivery than Walker. This would pay off as we got to grips with the game.
Dier down the right
Spurs weren’t switching the ball quickly enough in the first half. We tried to play through Liverpool and this walked right in to their hands. Our rare moments of success had come when we either went with longer passes to go over Liverpool’s press or from quickly switching the side of play in one or two passes.
Toby Alderweireld was key to this. As he started to move the ball, we began to create chances.
With play now moving quicker from one side to the other, Liverpool’s press, which had begun to tire, was being navigated more easily. Eric Dier was frequently free with James Milner’s positioning being exposed. Milner, as we looked at in the Spurs vs Liverpool preview, is not a full back and can be caught out of position.
Dier retained his width and started to get in to crossing positions as we found him in space. As we know from his time at right back throughout the 2014/15 season, Dier’s delivery is very underrated. He picked out Christian Eriksen to fire just over.
Harry Kane then under hit a pass to Dier when he was in a similar position with Milner and the Liverpool defence caught inside.
Eric Dier retaining his width, combined with a long pass from Toby Alderweireld and James Milner’s positioning, would all manifest themselves on our equaliser. Coupled with Sadio Mane failing to track his oft fouling traget, Danny Rose, and we were back level.
Rose raced-in unmarked and untracked at the far post to slice home in to the only part of the goal that he could’ve scored in. He admitted afterwards that he shanked it, but neither he nor anyone in White Hart Lane cared. It was Spurs 1-1 Liverpool as we sensed one point could be turned in to three.
After the goal went in, both teams continued to push for a winner and the game became stretched. Mauricio Pochettino made a curious change to bring on Josh Onomah. Harry Kane was withdrawn after operating for most of the match at the number ten position. Kane wasn’t influencing the game like he was against Crystal Palace, but was still an efficient cog in shifting play out to Dier to cross. Presumably Onomah came on to try and run in-behind as the game became stretched. He had one such chance as Spurs broke, but went for the space way too early and was caught offside.
Liverpool also had their chances. Georginio Wijnaldum saw his deflected effort saved. Adam Lallana was denied by a glorious last-ditch tackle from Toby Alderweireld to preserve the Spurs 1-1 Liverpool score line and what could be a vital point.
Spurs 1-1 Liverpool overall
The times we see Spurs struggle, it is often to teams that match or outnumber us in the centre of the pitch. The diamond formation can often be the culprit, but here it was a very narrow 4-3-3. We took our time to figure out that we need to play the ball much longer and quicker from either back to front or side-to-side.
Once we did get switching the ball, Eric Dier was key to generating chances and one of his crosses finally paid off.
Often maligned for his supposed weak wrists and nervy keeping displays, Michel Vorm was outstanding. His agile saves and frequent bursts from his line kept us in the game. Vorm has always been a sweeper keeper, especially for Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea, and he showed just why the club needs him as a backup to Hugo Lloris. A run of games is allowing him to show the consistency that had many after him when at Swansea.
Final score: Spurs 1-1 Liverpool.
MOTM: Michel Vorm.