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Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur: Tactical Analysis; a Game of Two Halves and Four Formations

Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
1.03K   //    05 Feb 2018, 01:51 IST

Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur goals highlights tactical analysis
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah grabbed a brace against Spurs

The Premier League never fails to disappoint when two of the Top Six sides face off against each other - especially when the two clubs are among the top three goal scoring teams in the league.

Liverpool vs Tottenham has always been an entertaining fixture and sometimes one-sided with both teams managing to put four past their opponents on more than one occasion in the past few seasons. Spurs had even won 4-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

But the 2-2 draw at Anfield was anything but one-sided. In fact, it was quite literally a game of two halves as Liverpool dominated the first period while Spurs made headlines in the second.

A point shared by both sides was probably a good advertisement for the league but the refereeing standards and inconsistencies associated with decision-making were certainly not in the league's best interests.

Here's how the game panned out and why we saw the two teams share the spoils.

Tottenham's bizarre midfield diamond fails in first half

Pochettino's formation of choice this season has been the 4-2-3-1 formation that has seen them come away with positive results. Spurs haven't lost this season with that formation (9 wins and 4 draws) but the Argentine manager decided to change things around at Anfield.

Looking to prevent Liverpool from playing through the middle while simultaneously attempting to bypass their press, Spurs were set up in a midfield diamond with Mousa Dembele at the base, Eric Dier on the right, Dele Alli on the left, and Christian Eriksen up top.

LIV TOT
Liverpool vs Tottenham Formations: First Half (4-3-3 vs 4-1-2-1-2) and Second Half (5-3-2 vs 4-2-3-1)

The problem with this setup was that it was far too narrow and Liverpool exploited the space on the flanks. Both full-backs (Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson) were able to make runs forward unimpeded and effect play.

On offense, Alli playing on the left instead of up top took him further away from goal. Instead of playing on the edge of the final third where he is most lethal, Alli was forced to drop deeper and bring the ball forward.

Dele Alli Liverpool Tottenham
Dele Alli was played out of position and was invisible for Tottenham in the first half

He clearly struggled to get free with the Reds' press and only managed to complete 5 passes in the first half!

Liverpool may have been lucky to score with Eric Dier's back-pass eventually finding Salah who needed no invitation to race into the box but that goal also came as a consequence of errors in midfield when they failed to deal with Karius' punt up field.

Henderson and Mane were able to flick the ball forward and Spurs' high line simply failed to control the situation before Dier's poor touch allowed Salah to open the scoring unimpeded.

Also read: Salah quicker than Torres, Owen and Suarez to Liverpool landmark

Liverpool's pressing causes Spurs problems aplenty

Alli wasn't the only player who struggled to get going in the first half. Liverpool's relentless pressing and closing down Spurs' passing lanes saw both Alli and Eriksen fail to impose themselves like they normally do when the north London side have the ball.

As a result, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min were starved of any decent service and barely touched the ball in the final third in the first 45 minutes. Kane didn't even have a single touch in the box in the first half that saw Spurs manage only one shot on target.

James Milner Liverpool Tottenham
James Milner had an exceptional first half in attack and defence

The Reds' pressing not only narrowed down their passing options but also starved them of any time on the ball to pick out a pass. Spurs midfielders were more often than not trying to get rid of the ball and the four Liverpool defenders made 9 interceptions in total.

Pochettino rings in the changes in the second half to assume control

The second half saw Spurs switch back to their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation and, as a result, they were able to control proceedings and possession. Alli moved back to his favoured no.10 role behind Kane while Eriksen and Son moved out wide.

The tone of the game changed immediately. Attacking the Kop End, Alli was suddenly far more involved and was finding teammates with purpose. He was able to make more progress in the final third and could have had a decent effort on goal when he made his way into the box with the ball - if not for his pathetic attempt to win a penalty by diving.

Liverpool were overly cautious and sat back, inviting pressure. They were only looking to play on the counter-attack with Salah leading the charge. But every time they did get the ball up field, the Spurs midfield and defence did well to snuff out the danger.

Klopp blinks and opts to play defence, conceding the advantage

As the visitors grew more and more confident, especially after Pochettino sacrificed centre-back Davinson Sanchez for Erik Lamela, Klopp opted to see the game out even though he only had a slender 1-0 lead.

Joel Matip James Milner Liverpool Tottenham
Joel Matip came on for James Milner as Klopp looked to defend the lead

Joel Matip was brought on as an extra defender with the hardworking James Milner taken off. It was a risky move to switch to a back-three and sit back as this time it allowed Spurs' full-backs to venture forward. Without Sadio Mane on the pitch, it only made Kieran Trippier's job that much easier.

The German manager sacrificed midfield control to build a wall at the back. That plan backfired when Victor Wanyama's thunderbastard of a strike nearly tore open the back of the net.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Victor Wanyama's strike from distance changed the game

This was where the game entered a nervous phase for both teams as Spurs had the advantage in attack while Liverpool looked to play on the break with Spurs down a defensive-minded player.

If not for Mohamed Salah's individual brilliance to make it 2-1, Kane's penalty miss, and the farcical penalty that was awarded a second time even though Van Dijk had withdrawn his leg before Lamela fell to the ground, we may have seen a different result altogether.

The last 10 minutes of the game was a period of utter chaos at Anfield - pure torture for the two sets of fans and a hilarious end to the game for neutrals.

It also made the case for VAR to be trialled in the Premier League with the referee and linesman having different views on both incidents in the Liverpool box that led to the two penalties - not only to help the referees with decision-making but also to spot blatant dives by players looking to win a penalty

Also read: Klopp claims referee told him he made a mistake after controversial penalty gives Spurs lifeline at Anfield

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Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Arsenal, Bengaluru FC, LA Lakers, Ferrari and, of course, India!
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