Vintage Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool press Tottenham into submission
Liverpool produced a high-octane display that overwhelmed Tottenham in a 2-0 win at Anfield on Saturday. The Reds' performance was vintage Jurgen Klopp, their intensive pressing forcing Spurs into errors and turnovers that led to chances and, eventually, a first league win since December.
Their tactics could hardly be described as surprising, yet Spurs seemed unequipped to cope. They miscommunicated at the back and misplaced passes in midfield, inviting the hosts to run at their backline or, even worse, play passes in behind it, which happened for Sadio Mane's opener. They were also dispossessed easily, not least for Mane's second goal.
Spurs did have some chances, though, mainly through Son Heung-Min running in behind, but he missed a one-on-one with Simon Mignolet and couldn't connect cleanly with the ball for another. Ominously, his central role allowed Nathaniel Clyne to hare forward unmarked, which created further defensive problems.
Liverpool also had a clever way of pressing in which the two wingers stayed in high and central positions without the ball, ready to attack. Spurs were lucky to be 2-0 down at half time and although they were more direct in the second, they did not manage to avoid a first defeat in 10 league games.
Spurs forced into errors
What may have worried Mauricio Pochettino the most is that Spurs showed so many of the faults that occurred in their 2-2 draw at Manchester City on Jan. 21. Then as now, they tried to play their way out against a high-pressing side, only to shoot themselves in the foot with poor passes and defensive lapses. And unlike in Manchester, they were unable to strike back in the second half on Saturday.
Many of the problems were of their own making. The mood was set when Eric Dier cleared a ball in front of Hugo Lloris, who had come out to gather it. On six minutes a woeful Victor Wanyama pass triggered a counterattack, while Kyle Walker then managed to smash a long ball over the top of his own defence to release Mane, who was denied by Lloris. While the goalkeeper looked steady on the line, he also hesitated on the ball, at one point smacking a clearance into Roberto Firmino which fortunately bounced back to his feet.
Still, Liverpool deserved credit. Their pressing was sharp and energetic, and they kept winning second balls in central midfield -- often in front of the Spurs centre-backs -- which provided a good starting point for incisive moves. For the first goal, Georginio Wijnaldum found Mane in behind the defence for a clinical finish, yet the Dutch midfielder wouldn't have received the ball in the first place had Firmino not touched it to him ahead of Toby Alderweireld. That was one of five ball recoveries Firmino managed in the first half alone.
On other occasions, Liverpool merely won tackles and raced forward. At one point it happened twice inside a minute: Wijnaldum dispossessed Mousa Dembele to release Firmino, and then Mane stole it from Dier to make it 2-0.
Mane, Coutinho press centre-backs
The way in which Liverpool pressed was clever. Since their 4-3-3 faced a 4-2-3-1, the logical thing might have been for their wingers to close down the full-backs. But instead they waited for Spurs' centre-backs to get the ball, and then ran forward to press, leaving the nearest full-back free. This blocked the passing line from the centre-back to the full-back so that the ball had to be sent backwards or into central midfield, where pressing traps awaited.
If Spurs still managed to find the full-back, a central midfielder could always shuffle across to close him down. On the right, for instance, Mane made all his three tackle attempts slightly infield, while Adam Lallana made two ball recoveries near the touchline.
This meant that if Liverpool did win the ball in midfield, at least one of the two wingers would be on the "right" side of their full-back, in a position to attack the centre-backs. One example came on 32 minutes: Liverpool won the ball and passed it straight to Firmino, who immediately had a two-against-two situation against the centre-backs, since Philippe Coutinho had stayed upfield. The move ended with Coutinho shooting at Lloris.
Son role creates danger
Down the other end, Spurs produced less. They struggled to get past the high pressure and were predictable in the final third, their first attempt being a Christian Eriksen shot flying well over. Yet they did use Son in an interesting role, the winger cutting inside to sneak in behind the backline.
In fact, Son was involved in most of their best moves in the first half. He first ran onto a Ben Davies pass only to finish straight at Mignolet, before Dele Alli had a header cleared by Lucas. Son then collected a Harry Kane flick and got fouled, leaving Eriksen to curl a free-kick off target. Later on, he sprinted in behind again but failed to make proper contact with Alderweireld's fine delivery.
Still, even this had its downsides. Since Son often cut inside, Clyne was repeatedly allowed to sprint forward unopposed, often leaving Davies outnumbered. It hardly helped that Firmino, Lallana and even Jordan Henderson took runs down the right to worry the left-back. On 13 minutes, Clyne was involved in a counterattack that led to Firmino and Coutinho each having shots blocked. Clyne would set up another Firmino effort before half-time, and also test Lloris himself.
Klopp adjustments secure win
In the second half, at 2-0 up, Liverpool shut down the game. They were more patient and made 10 ball recoveries fewer than in the first half. Spurs tried a more direct approach but produced just two shots, one getting blocked and another flying well off target.
Seven yellow cards disrupted the rhythm, but in truth the game seemed lost for Spurs long before the final whistle sounded.
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