Premier League

Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool: The power of pace spooks Spurs

 • by Mark Thompson
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Hopefully, for Tottenham, the new White Hart Lane will feel more like home than Wembley. Judging on the two teams’ performances today, you’d have guessed it was Liverpool who were the home team.

Jürgen Klopp’s side won 2-1 and, although neither goal came from the arrow-quick attacks they’ve become known for, their pace was a key part in their win.

Around Georginio Wijnaldum’s header, Roberto Firmino’s tap-in and Erik Lamela’s injury-time consolation, Liverpool tore open Tottenham’s defence, who were perhaps a little too pre-occupied with preventing pacy counters.

Spurs’ defensive game-plan

Mauricio Pochettino or Hannah Montana? Tottenham tried to get the best of both worlds and ended up with neither.

Wanting to stop Liverpool playing with the ball (or to try and stop them having time at the back to pick out passes for Mohamed Salah) Spurs tried to press their opponents high up the pitch.

But their defenders didn’t follow the forwards and midfielders up the pitch, leaving a big gap in the middle of the pitch.

Pochettino will have taken the chance that this was a better place for the space to be than between his defenders and his goalkeeper, but Spurs didn’t deal with it well.

Move the full-backs back?

On Sky Sports’ co-commentary, former full-back Gary Neville was keen for Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose to drop back to help out their centre-backs, but there’s an argument that this wouldn’t have helped much.

Sure, there’d have been extra bodies back, but it wouldn’t have plugged the gap where the space was. This is the argument for inverted full-backs, a la Pep Guardiola, who tuck into midfield. Less width, but more protection in the middle against counters.

Vehicle reversing, vehicle reversing, vehicle reversing

The pace of Liverpool’s front-line didn’t just affect Tottenham tactically, it preyed on the minds of Spurs’ centre-backs when they were dealing with the many one-on-one battles they found themselves in.

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, in particular, left plenty of space between themselves and the advancing forward when they were backing off. There’s no chance of nicking the ball away that way, but there’s also little chance that you can be turned.

Or that’s how it should be. Alderweireld was fortunate in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal that he’d slowed down Sadio Mané enough for there to be team-mates back to smother the attack after the Senegalese striker turned inside him. Salah did the same to Vertonghen in the second half.

The problem with this approach of Spurs’ was that Liverpool’s own indecision became the biggest thing preventing them from scoring. If they hadn’t got the goals they did, or if Tottenham had managed to squeak an equaliser, they’d have been rueing their choices.

A change of shape

For their part, Tottenham looked a lot better in the 4-2-3-1 of the second half to the 4-whatever it was-2 of the first. On paper, it was supposed to be a diamond in midfield, but it rarely looked like that.

The flexibility helped them to adjust in their attempts to press Liverpool, who were always moving about, but it didn’t help them much when they had the ball. They had three shots in the first half – a blocked shot, a Christian Eriksen free-kick, and Vertonghen’s attempt to catch Alisson off his line. Not a lot.

After the break, moving Lucas Moura wider to the left meant he could get in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold more often, but Joe Gomez showed pace in covering that neither Tottenham full-back really have and so Liverpool were able to mop things up.

The final call

2-1 flatters Tottenham. Liverpool had 14 shots inside the box, eight of which were on target, as well as other chances on the break that never materialised into an effort on goal.

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