Premier League

Why Pochettino Must Start Llorente Against Liverpool

 • by Thomas McIlroy
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When Tottenham Hotspur lined up with Fernando Llorente and Harry Kane for their Champions League tie at Real Madrid, it was a surprise to many.

Yet Mauricio Pochettino proved his tactical acumen once again as Spurs got an impressive point at the Bernabéu against the European champions, and it could easily have been three as well if Los Blancos keeper Keylor Navas hadn’t made two great saves late on, first from Kane and then from Christian Eriksen.

Llorente’s inclusion was largely due to Dele Alli’s suspension, but that doesn’t mean using Kane and the Spaniard together should be limited to just that match in the Bernabéu.

The perfect time for them to play together again would be this weekend against Liverpool.

The 32-year-old has made only three substitute appearances in the league for Spurs so far this season, totalling just 22 minutes, but it’s time for that to change and he can have a real effect for Pochettino this season, showing why he was also a Chelsea transfer target when he was at Swansea City.

Impressive in Madrid

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Llorente was at the centre of many things Tottenham did well in Madrid.

Pochettino singled him out for praise after the game.

“This was the idea to give more freedom for Harry to establish this structure,” he said after the game.

“He joined us on September 1.

“He has trained very hard and very well over the international break.

“Today was an important game to have his experience.

“He is a world champion and he has a great understanding with the rest of his team-mates.

“He had a great performance and we are happy. The way we competed was very good.”

And Pochettino was right, Llorente being on the pitch did give Kane more freedom, especially from set pieces.

With Real Madrid’s best defensive header of the ball Sergio Ramos being put on Llorente due to his aerial prowess, Kane was able to be much more of a threat from set pieces.

As you can see in Spurs’ best chance of the first half, it came because of Ramos being tight on Llorente (in yellow), while no-one else from Madrid picked up Kane (in red).

Undoubtedly if Llorente wasn’t on the pitch, Ramos would have been on Kane.

The Englishman was allowed to attack the ball by Casemiro and he forced Navas into a great save, with the Costa Rican goalkeeper tipping it over the bar.

That wasn’t the only time Llorente caused problems from a set piece, creating space for his team-mates.

In the below still, he went to the near post, leaving his team-mate behind in loads of space as the Real Madrid defence, aware of his aerial prowess, followed him to the front post.

Eriksen’s ball in wasn’t good enough and was cleared, but a pinpoint pass would have led to a free header.

But when the ball came back into the box, the focus on Llorente (in yellow) allowed Davinson Sánchez (in red, behind) to get a free header, again saved brilliantly by Navas.

With one-third of Liverpool’s Premier League goals conceded this season coming from set pieces, having someone like Llorente on the pitch, who causes chaos from corners and free-kicks, could be one way Spurs could get an advantage on Sunday.

And it’s no surprise that opposing teams are worried about him from set pieces given Llorente scored eight Premier League goals for Swansea with his head last season – Tottenham as a team scored just ten league headers in 2016/17.

But it wasn’t just set pieces where Llorente was impressive from against Real Madrid.

He was crucial in setting up chances where Spurs could have won the match.

In the above stills, Llorente won the ball in the air, heading it down to Eriksen, before getting it back, then showing his passing ability to send Kane through on goal, before a great save from Navas.

He also sent Eriksen through on goal with a brilliant flick-on, with the Dane’s effort again saved by the Real Madrid keeper.

Of course, Tottenham can create chances without Llorente in the team, but he offers them something else, especially in the air, and that could be vital against a Liverpool side that averages 15.6 aerial duels lost per game.

Llorente could be the difference, not only by dominating in the air, but by taking a bit of attention away from Kane, who could very well continue his good goalscoring form.

Speaking after his first game of the season against Barnsley, where he failed to impress, Llorente said: “I need more time. This summer was hard because my arm meant a long stop. I have to work a lot. I don’t know how long.

“With minutes and confidence I think every match will be better.”

Now he’s fully fit after his arm injury in the summer, he can be a real asset for Tottenham for the rest of the season.

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