Liverpool produced an impressive display against Tottenham in a 2-0 win at Anfield on Saturday.
The Reds’ performance was vintage Jurgen Klopp. Their high intensity pressing game forced Spurs into errors and turnovers that led to chances on goal.
However, Spurs and their manager Mauricio Pochettino seemed surprised at Liverpool’s intensity. There seemed to be a lack of communication throughout their defence and there were many unforced errors in midfield, inviting Liverpool to attack Spurs’ backline and play balls in behind their defence.
The benefit of Liverpool pressing high is that if they win the ball back they are close to the Tottenham goal.
Tottenham didn’t have the creativity or composure to break Liverpool’s press and I believe they would have been better suited playing the ball more direct towards Harry Kane than trying to build possession while under pressure from Liverpool.
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.
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, rather than chasing back Spurs’ attacking full-backs Kyle Walker and Ben Davies.
Spurs’ Unforced 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 in January.
During the game at Anfield, they tried to play their way out against a high-press, where normally you would play direct forward balls to the strikers in order to beat the press. The away side only had each other to blame with a mix of poor pass selections, poor execution and poor defending.
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 Victor Wanyama’s pass triggered a counter-attack, 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 steering a clearance into the path of Roberto Firmino which fortunately for Lloris, bounced back to his feet.
Liverpool deserved credit for the hard work which they put in without the ball.
Their pressing was sharp and energetic, they didn’t allow Tottenham to get control of the game from the constant closing down and pressure they were putting on the Tottenham midfield.
Liverpool kept winning second balls in central midfield which often lead to attacks.
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.
Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho Pressing
The way in which Liverpool pressed was very intelligent.
Their 4-3-3 formation faced Spurs’ 4-2-3-1. The standard procedure might have been for Klopp to employ his wingers to close down the Tottenham full-backs. But instead they waited for Spurs’ centre-backs to get the ball, and then started 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.
If the ball was played into central midfield, the Liverpool midfielders were ready to press them so it proved very difficult for the Spurs midfield to get on the ball and play passes out wide.
This meant that if Liverpool did win the ball in midfield, at least one of the two wingers would be on the inside side of the Spurs full-back, leaving a 3-v-2 against Tottenham’s central defenders.
One example came in the first half, Liverpool won the ball and passed it straight to Firmino, who immediately had a 3-v-2 situation against the centre-backs, since Philippe Coutinho had stayed upfield. The move ended with Coutinho having a shot which Hugo Lloris easily saved.
Klopp Altering his Tactics in the Second Half
Liverpool managed the game very well in the second half being 2-0 up.
They were more patient and with them leading by two goals they were able to play more on the counter attack to maintain their lead. Spurs tried a more direct approach but produced just two shots, one getting blocked and another flying well off target.
Maybe if the away side had employed this tactic early in the first half it could have brought more joy to their play as there would have been more space to exploit due to Liverpool pushing high onto Spurs.