Liverpool produced a rare victory at White Hart Lane – their first since 2008 – and they did it in style with a 5-0 demolition. With Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge out injured for the next month, the question aimed at Brendan Rodgers before the game was ‘ will Liverpool cope?’, not just with Spurs, but also the upcoming away fixtures at Man City and Chelsea. Pressure was already mounting on Andre Villas-Boas, with a number of high profile signings yet to lay down a marker in the league. The team have been struggling to gel and adapt to a number of injury problems, and the fans are growing impatient.
Villas-Boas made Etienne Capoue his make-shift centre-back alongside Michael Dawson, and Kyle Naughton came in at left back in the absence of Jan Vertonghen. A weak defence to say the least for Spurs, but a midfield three of Dembele, Sandro and then Paulinho playing more advanced, while Chadli and Lennon started on the left and right respectively.
A consistent problem for Spurs this season concerns Paulinho and Soldado – the former, though one of Spurs more reliable performers, is not a ‘number ten’. This is a problem for Soldado, who throughout the season has been far too isolated due to the composition of the midfield. He has played as a lone striker for Valencia and perhaps AVB feels his form will improve, but the manager hasn’t had the tactical flexibility to experiment properly with a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system – perhaps more beneficial to Soldado, and inclusive for Jermaine Defoe.
Brendan Rodgers went with the predicted 4-3-3, Skrtel and Sakho keeping their places at centre-back, while Lucas, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson formed the midfield triangle – Lucas between the centre-backs, the latter two more advanced. Sterling and Coutinho continued in the wide areas, Sterling looking to stretch wide and attack Naughton, Coutinho looking to drift inside and combine with the midfield.
As usual most of Liverpool’s play gravitated to the right hand side, with a massive 43% going through Johnson and Sterling on that side.
Above you can see how the average positions graph shows this, with Coutinho coming very central off his flank, and the midfield triangle very consistent in their positioning, near enough all in right hand side of the pitch. Flanagan and Sakho – who both put in very strong performances – look comparatively isolated together out on the left.
Henderson and Joe Allen
There is likely to be an abundance of articles come Monday morning heaping praise on Jordan Henderson, who put in a man of the match performance and will receive all the credit he deserves. The ground that he and Luis Suarez make up for his goal alone sums up everything about his game:
Joe Allen however, also showed yet again why he is crucial to the future of Liverpool’s midfield. Well known for being central to Brendan Rodgers philosophy, he is playing with more maturity than midfielders with 10 years more experience. His was a performance with an abundance of positivity, patience and penetration with the ball, and energy, bite and determination without it.
Allen may have received a lot less flack in recent weeks, but it still seems that many fans don’t fully understand why Rodgers loves him so much as a player. Reluctant praise for him often comes for his passing ability, but saying he just plays good passes is an insult to his footballing integrity.
He was a massive factor in the victory.
Spurs didn’t really play – but Liverpool pressed so hard in the midfield Spurs never had the chance to play. Along with Henderson he barged, hassled and hacked at the heels of the opposition, sprinting to affect their first touch, and Spurs consequently couldn’t settle down and play. Anyone claiming he is a soft touch clearly doesn’t watch him play. Add to this the undercurrent of Spurs recent struggles for fluidity and consistency in midfield, and chosen midfield three would actually be the most logical strategy even if Gerrard was available.
‘Size and Power’
Is size and power everything? A major factor for many ahead of the game, was the strength, size and power of the Tottenham midfield – Paulinho, Dembele and Sandro, a trio who people believed would be the favourites to win the physical battle. Liverpool’s midfield of Lucas, Allen and Henderson, smaller and slighter in stature, perhaps seen as neater, more technical players, were dismissed and assumed as incapable of matching up to this with their ‘pretty football’.
Liverpool bullied them. They were small, but they were feisty, disciplined but frantic, and furious at losing the ball. The same went for Coutinho and Sterling in the wide areas, who knew exactly when to hold their positions and maintain their shape, when to release and press, and how to break into the right spaces upon winning it back.
The stats did not make pleasant viewing for Spurs fans, as they failed to register a shot on target during the entire game. Liverpool won the possession battle with 57%, however they were comparatively poor in the final third with only 60% accuracy, where they can expect closer to 80% at home. Overall passing accuracy was good for Liverpool with 85% to Spurs 79%, but generally the stats don’t tell us too much about the ebb and flow of the game. The outcome was heavily influenced by Liverpool’s incredible pressing strategy, and as Brendan Rodgers put it in the post-match interview, they had ‘earned the right to play’ – which wasn’t necessarily the way this game was supposed to go.
Another key factor was the red card for Paulinho at 0-2, an important player who’s departure took away any chance of a comeback for Spurs. Sandro’s injury earlier on had already forced Paulinho deeper to accommodate Lewis Holtby in attacking midfield, and this worsened their problems.
Rodgers was delighted post-match, with an entire team of match winners on the day, and now a tighter grip on Arsenal and the top four in general. There will be mutterings about contending for the title, but the league is a marathon and can never be hastily predicted. Rodgers in the past has typically had successful second halves to the season compared to the first, and perhaps with a bit more depth in January and the return of Sturridge to add more goals, perhaps the conversations might continue.
The pressure continues to mount for Andre Villas-Boas. Tactically yes, he has to address certain areas and the support for Soldado issue, but he has a lot going against him at the moment. He is an intelligent, progressive manager, with a philosophy that is difficult to implement, and it is likely this team will not begin to gel until perhaps later in the season with injuries and so many new faces. Time to see yet again if a club will opt for patience or immediate results.