Two in-form teams faces each other in midweek at Anfield. Liverpool are unbeaten in all competition in 2015, after an unsure start to the season. Tottenham have picked up some form recently under Mauricio Pochettino, with Spurs winning four of their last five games. This game is a particularly important game for both teams, as they are battling for Champions League places.
Liverpool welcome back Daniel Sturridge as he makes his first start for Liverpool since August. Raheem Sterling is missing through injury, so Jordon Ibe keeps his place in the starting XI after an impressive display at the Merseyside Derby. Brendan Rodgers continues with a 343 formation which works well in recent times, Emre Can keeps his place at right centre-back, despite Dejan Lovren fit and available on the bench.
No big changes at Spurs, Dier keeps his place ahead of Fazio. Algeria international Nabil Bentaleb is back from international duty and forms a dynamic and youthful partnership in the middle of the park with Ryan Mason. Harry Kane is looking to continue his fantastic form, he plays up front for the away side.
Now, let’s get through how the two teams really shapes up on the pitch.
Both teams are looking to dominate the midfield area and thus they are trying to outnumber the opposition. Tottenham effectively start Christian Eriksen in the left wing and Erik Lamela. But as the game goes on, those two are consistently getting in the more central areas, in order to outnumber Liverpool’s midfield.
With the attacking wide players operating more centrally, it will create space for the full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to go forward and provide crosses. Liverpool might be vulnerable if they are caught in Tottenham’s counter attacks, as they are playing with three centre-backs, and their wing-backs Alberto Moreno and Jordon Ibe are attack-minded players. Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can will have to defend in the wide areas. We should also see Pochettino’s trademark tactics, which is to press high and aggressively, when his team doesn’t have the ball.
Liverpool decide to let Coutinho and Markovic play with a lot of freedom behind Sturridge, it is effectively a 3421 formation. Coutinho and Markovic can then help Gerrard and Henderson strengthen that Liverpool midfield. Again, this allows the wing-backs Moreno and Ibe to be the only wide players of the team. As often, Gerrard is lying deep and trying to distribute and launch attacking moves with passes, whereas Henderson is the dynamic element of the Reds’ midfield.
You might think that the wide players moving away from wide areas will left them a bit short of options down the flanks, but both strikers, especially Harry Kane, are working tremendously hard to chase the ball, and help the team by providing more width. Harry Kane has 40 touches, and quite a lot of them are at the wide areas.
Daniel Sturridge’s work rate is remarkable as well: although he operates more centrally, you got what you want from a modern day striker with Sturridge: 38 touches, a number of them quite deep, so he also helps to launch attacking moves for his team.
Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham (Lazar Markovic, 15′)
The first goal occurs right after a decent Tottenham chance, Ryan Mason’s strike was well held by Mignolet. The Belgian international then realizes both full backs were out of position and actually does well to launch it forward towards Sturridge. He holds the ball up really well, and waits for support in the form of Markovic. Because Vertonghen closes Sturridge down and is beaten for strength by the striker, he is also out of position leaving his defensive partner Eric Dier in a dilemma:
- Either he closes Markovic down which would free Daniel Sturridge in a dangerous area
- Or he decides to stick with Sturridge, and let Bentaleb try and deal with Markovic.
I think eventually, he makes the decision (it is the right one) a split second too late: Dier decides to close down Markovic, who is already in a great position to have an effort at goal. It was not the Serbian’s best effort at goal, and I do believe Lloris, with the qualities he has, must do better to prevent the ball from going in.
Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham (Harry Kane, 26′)
This is a great team goal. The move actually starts from Tottenham’s own half. Eriksen, I think, surprises Gerrard and Henderson, by going quite deep and ask for the ball, which he eventually receives, but he is then allowed to carry the ball forward, with not a single Liverpool player tries to immediately close him down.
Eriksen finds Rose on the left flank. You might notice that the three attacking players, Lamela, Eriksen and Dembélé operate in the central area, as we have seen before. In order to keep possession and carry on with the attacking move, Mason makes an intelligent run across the Liverpool half and Henderson has to go with him. This creates a significant space for Lamela to continue the attack.
Lamela then has time to look up for a pass and finds Walker. The right-back then gives Lamela the ball again. Henderson closing him down creates space in between the lines. As Lamela and Eriksen plays a one-two, both Henderson and Gerrard are caught ball-watching, Gerrard actually reacts a bit too late, and Lamela gets into that space in front of the back three.
He picks his final pass to Harry Kane, who does really well to wrong-foot and beat Sakho, and finishes superbly with a lot of power and precision as well, that is Kane’s trademark finish. Mignolet is a bit unlucky though not to have saved Kane’s effort. A real team effort leads to this goal.
Both teams go into half-time with the score line level, 1-1.
Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham (Gerrard pen, 53′)
This goal really shows that Liverpool have missed Daniel Sturridge a lot. Despite being injured for most of the season, he was quick, sharp and alert. He finds and creates spaces too.
In the build up of this goal, he was strong on challenges on the edge of the area, and then passes the ball to young Jordon Ibe, who I think has been excellent once again. Sturridge gets into the 18-yard box, where the Tottenham defenders have to be cautious before committing into challenges. Eventually, someone has to make a challenge to try and stop the Liverpool striker, but his quick feet fool Danny Rose who dives into a tackle and brings Sturridge down, Penalty!
Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham (Dembélé, 61′)
In the build up of this goal, we see how clever and complete Harry Kane is for such a young striker. He is involved in everything for this Tottenham goal (apart from the finishing of course).
He wins the free kick that leads to the goal. He is clever because he has a great positional sense here, finding pockets of space on the edge of the area. He is alert, and in this occasion reacts quicker than Steven Gerrard to actually win the ball from his team-mate and win the free kick as well.
His positioning for the resulting free kick is very interesting as well: He stands just behind the wall (he was probably marginally offside), but it is unbelievable that not a single Liverpool player is marking him. They should know that he is the danger man, and should probably have marked him better. But Kane does everything right, once again alert after Mignolet saved the free kick. He then delivers an excellent cross with his weaker left foot, and it was an easy tap-in for Moussa Dembélé from a yard out.
Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham (Balotelli, 83′)
It was a long wait, it felt like an eternity in fairness, but at last, Mario Balotelli has scored a Premier League goal for Liverpool. Credit has to go to substitute Adam Lallana as well, who creates this winning goal.
The former Southampton man loves to play with a lot of freedom. He picks the ball from the central area, brings it wide and passes it to Ibe. Lallana then makes an good run off the ball. I think Nabil Bentaleb makes a really poor decision here: instead of following Lallana, he decides to close down Jordon Ibe, who Danny Rose is already trying to deal with. The space opens up for Lallana, Chadli realizes a bit too late. The England international finds himself in a very dangerous position.
You just cannot give Lallana the freedom in those kind of areas. He delivers a pinpoint low cross to Balotelli, who finishes from point-blank range.
This was an entertaining game of football, in fact one of the best I have seen for a long time. This is a fantastci result for Liverpool, who can now concentrate for a top four finish, which is a real possibility, but they have to keep Daniel Sturridge fit and scoring. They have found a real exciting young talent in Jordon Ibe.
For Tottenham, this is a setback without a doubt. But for once, I feel that they have found a bit of stability, which has been missing for them in the last couple of years. Mauricio Pochettino is doing a very good job at White Hart Lane. But I wonder what Tottenham would have been doing in the league without Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen.
This is my first real tactical analysis of this kind. It would be nice if you guys can give me some feedback, and ensure that I am going in the right direction.