Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Monday 5th February 2018 9:44

* In a results-based business such as football, the destination is more important than the journey. But that should take nothing away from Liverpool and Tottenham, who endured and enjoyed separate rollercoaster rides to end up at the exact same point on Sunday. A draw was a fair result.

It was a game to exemplify just why neither are yet capable of sustaining a true challenge for the Premier League title, but also why both are well-placed to eventually reach that juncture. Liverpool directed proceedings in the first half before succumbing to pressure and panic in the second. Tottenham put in an insipid first-half performance that was salvaged by a rousing second-half showing.

The flaws and deficiencies of both sides were on show, but their positives and strengths were accentuated at times too. Only Liverpool and Tottenham could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory before drawing in the same game.

 

* The starting line-ups provided an intriguing insight into the mindsets of both managers. Liverpool made two changes, with Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold coming in, while Tottenham named an unchanged side.

Liverpool have now made 98 changes to their side in the Premier League, which The Times reliably informs is comfortably the most ever by any team at this stage of the season. Tottenham, by comparison, have made 60 in 26 games. Before this match, two Liverpool players had played more than 2,400 minutes in all competitions this season; six had done the same for Tottenham.

One manager relies on his squad, and preaches a policy of rotation, rotation, rotation. The other depends on a regular starting XI supplemented by a smaller selection of stand-ins. This game was proof that neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, it just depends on how well it is implemented.

 

* Just as Tottenham did against Manchester United at Wembley, Liverpool skipped the foreplay completely at Anfield. Christian Eriksen took 11 seconds to open the scoring in midweek, and Salah forced us to wait all of three minutes on Sunday.

The goal offered an insight into Liverpool’s approach. As they passed the ball along the defence in an attempt to thwart the Tottenham press, Loris Karius stepped in. His long kick reached a congested midfield and placed pressure on a high back line, and the response was telling. Even the normally cool Davinson Sanchez hardly looked at ease, and Liverpool were soon ahead.

The hosts deployed a similar tactic on a number of occasions in the first half. In the first 12 minutes Jordan Henderson and Emre Can both launched long, searching balls forward to Liverpool’s three rapid attackers, looking to force a mistake from a defence pushed as high as usual. It certainly worked early on.

 

* Martin Tyler and Gary Neville declared it is “a little bit of fortune” that Salah broke clear to slot beyond Hugo Lloris. The initial suspicion was that it was anything but, and each replay provided further damning evidence against Eric Dier. The midfielder threw a lazy leg towards the ball, and managed to slice open his own defence to play Salah in on goal.

The situation came from a Karius clearance, flicked on by Henderson and then by Sadio Mane, which panicked the Tottenham defence. The visitors had almost put out the fire by the time the ball arrived at the feet of Dier, who proceeded to throw a live grenade into the area.

“It’s a mistake but I think it was unfortunate,” was Mauricio Pochettino’s explanation for Dier’s costly error in the 1-0 defeat to United in October, yet this had absolutely nothing to do with luck. This was Dier by name, dire by nature. He has become a liability.

 

* Liverpool’s defence will justifiably be questioned after two more conceded goals, but their creativity was notably lacklustre. No player created more than one goalscoring chance as the hosts failed to capitalise on their assured start.

That is the issue Klopp faces in such games. The midfield trio he chose was based on their work-rate and their defensive ability, but that inevitably sacrifices their output going forward: Henderson, Can and Milner made one opportunity from open play. Klopp has creators and destroyers/defenders in his midfield ranks, but no player who combines both roles. How he must wish Naby Keita could have arrived early.

 

* While Liverpool did not press from the front, this was no dereliction of duty. They concentrated their efforts on frustrating and foiling one individual. Mousa Dembele was fouled five times and dispossessed on four occasions in the first half, the most of any player in either instance. The Belgian grew visibly more agitated with every trip, kick or pull of his shirt.

Dembele dominated proceedings against United four days prior, capitalising on a disjointed midfield that seemed to be working against each other as opposed to with one another. The contrast could not have been more stark, with Henderson, Milner and Can leading the charge on Dembele. That Tottenham scored within one minute of Dembele being removed is likely no coincidence, as Liverpool’s game plan was completely centered around him and him alone. With him gone, they had no one player to target.

 

* Klopp landed figurative punches on Pochettino, while Pochettino almost floored Klopp with a left hook. It was an absorbing tactical joust with no conclusive victor (aside from Wanyama) – although both bosses enjoyed the upper hand at points.

The Liverpool manager started in the ascendancy, but much of that was down to Pochettino’s mistake. The midfield diamond was too easily thwarted, with Eriksen silenced and Dembele targeted. Dele Alli is not a player capable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck alone, and nor is Dier.

Tottenham’s narrow midfield allowed Liverpool’s full-backs to prosper. Alexander-Arnold was the game’s best player, and he and Andrew Robertson enjoyed the freedom of their respective flanks. Tottenham had no answer.

Yet Pochettino kept his nerve, and it paid dividends the more Liverpool tired. The criticism would have justifiably flowed had he refused to change his tactics and Tottenham lost, but football is painted by results. Call it arrogance, stubbornness or naivety; Pochettino will call it a hard-earned and deserved point. On reflection, Klopp should do the same. Both managers made as many bad decision as good ones.

 

* Klopp’s double change on 65 minutes was to ensure Dembele could still be nullified. The first substitutions of the game for either side saw Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replace Henderson and Mane. It felt like the right call for a man who has struggled with in-game changes, as fresh players would be more capable of carrying out his instructions.

The problem came when Klopp fell into a safety-first approach. Joel Matip replaced Milner on 78 minutes, and two minutes later Wanyama’s thunderbolt gave Tottenham parity. A manager can hardly legislate for a goal of such quality, but it was coming. Tottenham were growing in confidence throughout the second half, and Klopp invited more pressure by bringing on a centre-half. It is at times like these that Liverpool should play more to their attacking strengths instead of their defensive weaknesses. Klopp has to learn.

 

* It was something of a surprise to see Alexander-Arnold replace Joe Gomez in the starting line-up. The former had started just eight Premier League games this season before Sunday, and only one against a fellow member of the Big Six. That came in the 5-0 mauling against Manchester City in September.

The 19-year-old has been drip-fed games, but a number of mistakes from Gomez handed him his opportunity against Tottenham. He took it with both hands, offering balance in defence and an outlet going forward. His delivery was impressive, no Liverpool player had more touches (63). An England call-up must be on the horizon.

 

* For those keeping count, the tally is now two. Wanyama’s goal was only the second scored by a Tottenham substitute this season, and it was slightly more important than the first – Moussa Sissoko’s stoppage-time goal in a 4-0 win over Huddersfield in October.

That Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente, the other two substitutes, combined to win the second penalty will be of great relief to the manager. Pochettino has been rightfully criticised for his inability to change the course of a game with his substitutes, and so he deserves praise when lessons are learned. The Argentinean waiting typically long to make his first change but it was the perfect choice on this occasion. Making a substitution any earlier would have disrupted Tottenham’s rhythm and given Liverpool a chance to recover the initiative. Instead, Pochettino waited as long as possible to make his substitutions, and he reaped the benefits.

 

* There is no doubting that both of Tottenham’s late penalties were contentious. The first saw Harry Kane race through and capitalise on Dejan Lovren’s failed clearance to round Karius, before collapsing to the ground. He was stood in a marginally offside position, and the contact with the keeper was difficult to judge.

The second saw Lamela fall under the aerial challenge of Virgil van Dijk, with one replay showing the centre-half clearly kicked the winger in the back, and another angle suggesting that the touch was minimal.

The nature of such difficult snap decisions makes Klopp’s accusation that the linesman wanted to be the “middle of interest” – or centre of attention – difficult to accept. The German might feel aggrieved but this is the latest example of him unnecessarily scapegoating the officials. The first penalty was certainly debatable, with the convoluted offside role muddying those particular waters, but that was the one Kane missed. The one he scored was correctly awarded by the linesman. Again, a draw was a fair result, so why did Klopp feel the need to blame anyone?

 

* While Kane’s first penalty was not the most difficult to either save or read, Karius should take great confidence from it. The German had a positive game, making smart saves from Dembele and Heung-min Son. There can also be no blame apportioned to him for either goal. His punch clear was simply unfortunate to land at the foot of Wanyama for the first, while Kane made no mistake with the second penalty.

The only worry is that the keeper’s distribution was haphazard. It is normally his most reliable trait, but he completed under one-third of his passes at Anfield. Tottenham’s high press goes some way to explaining that. This was at least two steps forward before one back.

 

* An excellent point for Tottenham this may be, it was also the seventh time in 13 away games that they have dropped points this season. Since Pochettino was appointed manager in summer 2014, they have won away at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United just once in 19 attempts.

The myth of the Wembley curse has been thoroughly debunked: they have won seven more points at home than away this season. Tottenham’s next stage is to rise to the challenge of paying their peers a visit, and this was at least a sign of progress.

 

* The only player to have more shots than Kane (5) was on the other side. This was very much a case of when Harry met Salah.

The Egyptian took his first goal excellently, giving Lloris absolutely no chance. The second goal was sublime, receiving the ball on the right-hand side, strolling and slaloming into the area before lifting the ball above the Tottenham keeper and scoring his 28th goal of the season. As Jamie Carragher said: “The only other man that can score that goal is Messi.”

No player completed more dribbles, and no Liverpool player was fouled more often. But most impressive is that only two Liverpool players had more touches, and only one Liverpool starter recorded a higher pass-completion percentage. Tottenham had 66% possession, yet Salah touched the ball 21 more times than Kane. Such numbers are ludicrous for a forward player.

 

* As aforementioned, Pochettino has his favourites. That is only to be expected, but could also be his undoing. Alli’s dive in the second half was correctly punished, yet it threatens to overshadow another ineffective performance in an ever-growing collection. He now has one assist and no goals in his last seven games, and was more hindrance than help at Anfield. He is living off his reputation and little else right now.

 

* In a game with two potential goal of the season award contenders, discussion is still centered around decisions made by officials. This is why we don’t deserve nice things.

Matt Stead

 


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