PhaseOfPlay on Spurs 0-5 Liverpool

Posted by PhaseOfPlay on December 17, 2013, 06:12:09 AM

It’s not often that Liverpool can go away to Spurs, and dominate White Hart Lane as if it was their own home ground. But dominate they did, in a stellar attacking performance that some might say masked some real defensive problems – but which, overall, put down a marker that stated that Liverpool, on their day, will hunt for any weakness shown by an opposition team, and exploit it to the fullest. There were three key points to the game against Spurs - the team shape, the work of Henderson, and the pressing defence. Taking away from that was one negative aspect of the performance, but not a crippling one. In fact, the game against Spurs might have shown possible solutions to some future problems.

Team Shape

This was an interesting game in terms of team-shape, because our shape was very, very dynamic. With Lucas dropping in between the defenders when needed, Allen and Henderson taking it in turns to press forward, Flanagan holding part but also choosing his moments to go forward, and Coutinho and Sterling moving in behind Suarez, Liverpool left a lot for Spurs to keep track of - their own team shape was quite static, with the exception of Capoue who didn’t seem to have anything remotely resembling tactical discipline as a central defender.

At times, we played in the near-3-4-3 formation that signified some of our best performances last season. Although the central defenders weren’t as split as they were last year, the fact that Lucas was able and willing to drop straight into the middle of the defenders, rather than that half-role he often takes, suggests that with two more mobile midfielders in front of him, he was more comfortable leaving that central area to other players and could drop in and play in the central space more effortlessly.

The key to the attacking mobility was the front three, plus Henderson. In 4v4 coaching, the continuous shaping and reshaping of a diamond arrangement of players is paramount – it’s a very Dutch thing to use the geometry of a diamond shape to trigger movement and support positions, and it is something that Barcelona base their football on, rather than the triangles people seem to associate with them. We could see elements of that in the types of penetrating runs being made by Sterling and Henderson, always trying to establish depth in front of, and width either side of, the ball. With this movement, coupled with penetrating fullbacks, and a makeshift Spurs defence, it’s easy to see where Liverpool’s attacking domination was coming from.


Henderson was a deserved Man of the Match. His physical output was one of the keys to how Liverpool won the midfield battle. If it wasn’t enough for Lucas to be playing the holding role as well as he has in quite a while, and adding to that Allen’s continuing regeneration as a legitimate £15m player, then the sheer athleticism, intelligence, penetration and work-rate of Henderson was the icing on the cake. A laboured midfield of Sandro, Paulinho and Dembele might have made a mark on an equally laboured midfield, given their physical power – but a midfield three that played with pace, purpose and ball-movement was always going to give them something to think about. Nobody personified that more than Henderson in this game. We can see this by the amount the field he covered, in both attack and defence:

The majority of his work was done in central midfield, but he ran the length of the field to help the team, balancing his work on both the left and right sides, with a slight bias towards the left side – a helping hand that Flanagan was surely grateful for at times.

In terms of his attacking output, he handled the mantle of “Gerrard Replacement” with aplomb. In terms of his passing, he made the most passes out of the whole team at 63 passes, with an astonishing 92% accuracy. As if that wasn’t enough, he also replaced Gerrard’s long passes in quality and quantity – Gerrard averages 7.1 long passes per game with a 74% accuracy level. Henderson played 7 long passes against Spurs, and all 7 reached their target. He also played 4 key passes in the game, which is higher than Gerrard’s average of 2.7 key passes per game. Perhaps the successor to Gerrard is someone we are already looking at on the books.


One of the key features of this game was Liverpool’s pressing game. It had all the hallmarks of a genuine pressing game, rather than the mere “pressure” game that is the norm under Rodgers. The midfield hunted for the ball in packs, the forwards put the Spurs defenders under pressure, and the team played fairly compact to cut the spaces between the lines. We can see from this image how we looked to win the ball high and early in Spurs’ half:

The high number of tackles and interceptions in the Spurs half shows a concerted effort take the game to the opposition, and it’s a policy that Rodgers should really make permanent as an away tactic, because the more cagey game of recent matches doesn’t suit the personnel or personality of the team. They look like a team that likes to hunt the ball, and that mentality would be a better means of getting maximum points from away games than the recent policy of patience and sitting back and letting the opposition take the initiative.
In terms of individual players, especially in the midfield, we can see, again, the continuing revival of Allen as a serious player. His eight tackles was the most of anyone in midfield, defence or attack. His work meant That Lucas could focus more on winning the second ball from the press, which was indeed the case – Lucas won 4 interceptions, the most on the team in the game, and a lot of these interceptions can be attributed to the pressure the team was putting on the Spurs midfield and defence to play rushed passes and take bad touches. The sending-off helped in this respect, but the damage was being done before that moment, truth-be-told.


If there is one negative to take from the game, it is the performance of one of the more experienced players in Johnson. His performance was not in synch with the efforts of the rest of the team, and indeed could almost be said to be sloppy in inverse proportion to the tidiness of the work of Henderson, for example. Johnson had 47 passes in the game, but only had a 70% accuracy with them. By contrast, Flanagan had less passes at 35, but crucially 89% of his passes reached their target. Johnson also, in 90 minutes, had only 1 tackle in the game – contrast this with Alberto’s 2 tackles in less than a half of football, and given that Spurs attacked mostly through their left side with Chadli, and you can see a pattern of carelessness in Johnson’s play. Even in terms of getting the ball forward, he was ineffective. He attempted 5 long passes, and not a single one reached their destination, while Flanagan attempted 2 long passes with 50% accuracy. It might be tempting to think that as soon as Enrique is fit, Johnson might well be challenged legitimately for his spot by Flanagan. Perhaps a fitter Kelly would be doing the same. Either way, there is a clear drop in Johnson’s performance levels and as churlish as it is to point them out in a resounding 5-0 away victory, it is precisely the nature of that victory that emphasises the shortfall in performance that Johnson exhibited. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and for so long Johnson was one of the strongest ones. The turnaround in circumstance might give Rodgers pause for thought as we enter the transfer period.


The take-home lesson from this game is that Liverpool shouldn’t fear any other team in the league. The football the team is capable of is more than enough to trouble even the biggest squads. Only 11 players can play at any one time, and what Liverpool’s first 11 might sometimes lack in player-for-player quality, it makes up for in togetherness, tactics, and mobility. The celebrations after the goals yesterday, and after each half ended, showed a team that believes in the talent of the collective, rather than the number of its parts. Sometimes, that is enough to make up for any “quality” deficit in individual player match-ups. We’ll see more about that in the next three games.

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