We all agree that Stoke basically got away with ‘arry carry’ last Saturday, and Liverpool will be hoping that there is no repeat in Sunday’s game at White Hart Lane against ‘Arry’s Spurs.
Last season Spurs got the better of the Reds in both premier league games, the 2-0 reverse at Anfield putting pay to Liverpool’s lingering hopes of European qualification (not to many people’s disappointment I may add!). All Reds fans will be hoping that we can recover from the defeat against Stoke, the question however, is how?
Spurs didn’t have the greatest of starts to this season, suffering fairly heavy defeats against both Manchester teams, however managed to get themselves back on track against Wolves last week. Harry’s deadline day deals certainly enhanced the quality of the starting line-up for the Wolves game. The central midfield pairing of Parker and Modric looks well balanced, the return of King added solidity in the back-line, and with Adebayor up front it could be argued that the Spurs side that Liverpool will face on Sunday, will be a different proposition than the Spurs side faced by both Man City and Man UTD.
How to blunt a Spur?
The combination of Parker and Modric in the centre of midfield is obviously an area that Liverpool will need to deal with effectively. It was no surprise, to me, that Spurs looked to have far better balance against Wolves, than in the games against Man City and Man UTD following Parker’s arrival.
Against Man City in particular, Spurs were completely dominated in the midfield area. Yaya Toure and Barry were frequently able to gain possession, and as Spurs had nobody in the anchor role (they started with Kranjcar and Modric), they were both able to find Silva, Nasri and Aguero, with ease, in the space between the midfield and the back four (from where they caused significant problems for Spurs).
The heatmaps below illustrate how Parker adopted the holding role during the Wolves game, potentially allowing Modric more freedom to drift into different more advanced areas during the course of the game and ensuring that Wolves found it difficult to play the ball directly into Doyle and Fletcher’s feet.
I expect Carroll to play against Spurs, with Suarez playing off him. Parker’s presence will make it more difficult for Liverpool to get Suarez on the ball in the areas between the midfield and the Spurs back four, and this will be something that Liverpool need to be aware of. In my opinion Liverpool need to drop Lucas and Adam deeper than normal, play Carroll up front as the spearhead and then play the three additional attacking players (Suarez, Downing, Kuyt or variations of) very narrow. This could restrict space in the danger areas just outside the Spurs penalty area, however I think Liverpool’s movement in these areas will create difficulties for Spurs and make it difficult for Parker to sit in the anchor role and break everything up, as he will have more than one player to contain with.
If the attacking three of Suarez, Downing and Kuyt are to frequently drift inside (expect to see Downing appear on the right-wing frequently and then cut inside), Liverpool must ensure that they use their full-backs to exploit any space left in wide areas. As soon as Downing and Kuyt receive possession inside, the respective full-back must already be in a more advanced position. This strategy is not going to work if they pick up the ball and the full-back is only just crossing the halfway line. Man City have managed to do this very effectively in their premier league games this season.
It may sound somewhat risky to ask the full-backs to get forward so quickly, however with Adam and Lucas both playing in a deeper holding position there is cover should the move break down. If Liverpool can get Enrique and hopefully Flanagan (in an attacking sense I would prefer him over Skrtel) into attacking areas frequently, it will make it harder for the Spurs full-backs to track the inside runs of Downing and Kuyt. It will also occupy Lennon (or perhaps Kranjcar) and Bale in a defensive sense, stifling their obvious attacking qualities.
The heatmaps below illustrate just how effective Man City were at getting their full-backs in attacking positions early in the game. With just 20 minutes gone of the game, the majority of Clichy’s and Zabaleta’s passes have been made in the Tottenham half. I would expect to see something similar from Liverpool’s full-backs following the game if Liverpool are to take the three points from White Hart Lane.
The following info-graphic courtesy of ESPN also illustrates the average position of the Man City players during the game at White Hart Lane. It clearly illustrates just how narrow Man City kept their attacking four, how Barry and Toure sat deep to control possession, and create the platform for the attacking four, and how advanced their full-backs were during the game (especially Zabaleta on the right – number 5).
In my opinion, this really is an area that Liverpool can exploit as they have players who are comfortable moving in off the wing, or in Suarez’s case finding dangerous positions right across the pitch. The presence of Carroll will also occupy centre-backs preventing them from tracking Suarez into some of the deeper lying positions that he will take up. Neither centreback will want to be left isolated with Carroll, especially when Liverpool work the ball into areas from where a cross is likely.
The other benefit of this strategy is that it will affect Tottenham’s usual pattern of play at White Hart Lane. Spurs tend to play with traditional wingers at home (Bale on the left and Lennon on the right), who will stay out on the wing rather than drift inside. If Liverpool can implement this strategy effectively they will both be forced inside regularly, making it harder for Spurs to attack Liverpool’s full-backs when they do regain possession. I am aware that Lennon is doubtful, and therefore Redknapp may be happy to try to match up with Liverpool, implementing a more narrow approach in the midfield area himself. This would potentially involve Parker playing in the deeper role, with Kranjcar, Modric and Bale (who would start towards the right wing) playing in front. Spurs would then also try to get Walker and Assou-Ekotto into attacking positions, in the same way that Liverpool would with their own full-backs.
The only slight concern for me would be if van der Vaart plays. I would prefer Spurs to start with Defoe and Adebayor up front as it will be easier for Liverpool to get Adam and Lucas on the ball in the deeper lying midfield position (I don’t see either Defoe or Adebayor being happy to drop deep when Liverpool are in possession), and it will also ensure that Liverpool have a numerical advantage in the midfield area making it easier for them to control this area.
I mentioned Modric at the start of this article, and he will certainly be one of the Spurs players who Liverpool will have given special attention to in their preparations. Against Wolves, Modric was slightly outshone by Kranjcar, in the midfield area, from a statistical point of view. Whilst Modric had a better pass completion rate (91% v 88%); Kranjcar made more successful passes in the final third (24 V 22), had one assist to Modric’s none and also created more chances (4 v 2). At home however, I expect Modric to be the main focal point of Tottenham’s attacks; and I believe that if Liverpool can stop Modric from playing, Kranjcar would finish with nothing like the stats he had at Wolves. I expect Lucas to be tasked with controlling Modric. Suarez will sit deep on Parker, when Spurs are in possession, and Lucas will track Modric.
Lucas has been nothing short of excellent in all Liverpool’s games this season. People may have wondered how he would fare in the midfield battle at Stoke, but they needn’t have. Lucas once again excelled, showing that he is likely to be one of the untouchable players in this season’s line-up.
Against Stoke he won 80% of his tackles, 91% of his possession duels and his pass completion was 88%. Before I hear the cries of “I bet they were all sideways or backwards”, 63% of his successful passes were forwards. He also did not lose possession once and created 4 chances. I expect Lucas to have a big game again against Spurs. I am certain that if he does, and stops Modric from dictating Tottenham’s attacking play, Liverpool will be leaving White Hart Lane with three points.
In summary I believe Liverpool need to do the following things against Spurs on Sunday;
- Drop Lucas and Adam slightly deeper in front of the back four in order to dictate the play.
- Encourage the attacking three, behind the ‘9’ position, to play narrow moving inside off the touchline regularly.
- Ensure that the full-backs are ahead of the play, in the wide areas, whenever Suarez, Downing and Kuyt receive the ball in deeper areas inside.
- Sit Suarez on Parker when Tottenham’s back four or GK are in possession.
- Use Lucas to restrict the creativity of Modric.