After the defeat at the KCom Stadium at the hands of a fighting for survival Hull City, Jurgen Klopp had said several things. He had talked about how Liverpool needed to “give a reaction” against Spurs in the next match and how Liverpool were still in hunt at least of a top-four finish to the season. Without specifying it as such, he had even laid out the template of what he thought would be a great reaction.
In the lengthy answer to the question about his reaction to the loss to the Tigers, he had mentioned “…You think then if we’d played from the beginning like this, with this direction, speed, kind of greed and all that stuff, then I think it would have been more difficult for Hull to cope with this…”. Then on being asked about his team’s attitude in that match, he gave another lengthy reply within which he had said, “…All football performances are mixtures of everything – a mixture of confidence, of attitude, readiness, passion, a lot of things…”.
Whatever Klopp had hoped about his team’s reaction would be against Spurs on Saturday, his team gave him exactly that and then some more. They played with confidence, readiness and passion. They had the right direction and speed and were amazingly greedy for the ball. What amazed me personally, was that they just did not let the intensity wane, even in the injury time at the end of the match. Even those last four minutes, they found the intensity to snap at opponents’ feet in the opponents’ third of the pitch.
The trio of Gini Wijnaldum, Henderson and Lallana put in a tremendous shift ensuring that no Spurs player felt at ease with the ball at his feet, and when they had the ball, they passed it intelligently, in the right direction and at speed. Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner created options on the wings with their overlapping runs and Joel Matip provided a solid spine to the defense. In the attack, Coutinho, Firmino and Mane were amazing and their running had the Spurs defenders – especially Ben Davies totally flummoxed. In the goal, Mignolet, who it was rumored had played his last game for his club already, put in a couple of magnificent saves and was confident in dealing with the high crosses. Overall, it was a performance that belonged to the Liverpool of September and October 2016, not to the Liverpool who had gathered only two points out of the possible 15 in 2017. Here, I take a look at a few stats, which I believe describe Reds’ methods more vividly than words.
Spurs Successful in Dribbling, But At the Back
It is well known that Jurgen Klopp wants his defense to start right at the top, with the attackers pressing the opponents’ defense really hard to stop them from being able to build an attack. Nothing exemplified this more than the second goal. Sadio Mane stole the ball from the feet of the indecisive Spurs defender with anticipated pressing. That was like a template for energized pressing across the entire pitch.
Indeed, Liverpool put in 31 tackles and were successful only in 18 of them. Spurs on the other hand, attempted 19 dribbles and were able to successfully take on a Liverpool player 13 times. Now all this seems to show Liverpool in a bad light, till we realize that more than 50% of those successful dribbles were put in by Spurs’ defensive midfielder duo of Wanyama and Dembele. What this means is that, Liverpool’s attackers and midfielders pressed so high up on the pitch that the two players who got the most success in bypassing them were Spurs’ DMs, who had to actually find one of the front four – Alli, Eriken, Son, or Kane for that successful dribble to lead to anything productive. But they could not do so as often as they would have wanted, as another surge of Liverpool’s pressers came looking to dispossess them. This leads us to the next area, where the Reds won the game.
Final Third Passing
By throttling Spurs’ DMs the most, Liverpool were able to restrict the number of times Spurs were able to pass into the Red third. Spurs could only attempt 105 passes that reached somewhere in the Red third, of which only 63 ended up with a Spurs player. To put that into perspective, for the whole season, Spurs average 162 final third pass attempts, with a 72% accuracy and these stats include Saturday’s numbers.
In comparison, Liverpool had a much better game in terms of final third passing. They attempted 183 passes in Spurs’ third (209 overall) with a 67% accuracy (74% overall). This means that Liverpool had 59 more successful final third passes than Spurs. This created a nice base of attack as they were able to pass more into the Spurs’ penalty area (35 times vs Spurs’ 26 times) and had more shot assists – 11 to Spurs’ 5.
Which brings us to the last stat, where I think Liverpool were much better than Spurs and it was evident to anyone who watched the game.
With the kind of service they were getting, Liverpool’s attackers were bound to shoot more than their better ranked opponents. But they outshot Spurs by 10 shots – attempting 17 shots to Spurs’ 7. Eleven of those 17 were from inside the penalty area (5 for Spurs) as a result of higher number of passes they received in the box. Also, not only did the Reds shoot more, they were also more accurate. 9 of their 17 shots were on target, while only 2 of Spurs’ 7 were on target.
People might point out that Liverpool were destined to get a favorable result against Spurs as they seldom lose to a top-six competitor. Some might even say that a win was guaranteed. However, what must please the Liverpool fans most is that their team not only gave a reaction to the recent losses, they sustained that reaction for the entire match and that too against an opponent, who on their day can rip apart the best defenses in the league.
To add to that, Klopp’s team is now getting a two-week (minimum) break due to their failure in the FA Cup. While that FA Cup exit must still rankle, Klopp has welcomed this break as a mini-pre-season in February. Keeping in mind Saturday’s display, and the fact that they will meet their fellow top-four contenders (City and Arsenal) with fresher legs, Liverpool fans should be permitted to dream of seeing their team in the Champions League next season.