Monday, 16 May 2011

Liverpool 0 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool lined up as expected, with Glen Johnson at left-back and Andy Carroll returning to the starting line up at the expense of the injured Meireles. Ledley King started for Tottenham for the first time since October, and Younes Kaboul came in at right-back.

This was a fairly even if unremarkable game, neither side had many clear chances, but ultimately Tottenham made the most of their breaks, while Liverpool weren't able to raise their game to the level of recent weeks. The home side's build-up play was bitty, and there was very little of the flowing pass-and-move football which had livened up Liverpool's past few games. Some will lay the blame at the feet of Andy Carroll - wrongly, in my opinion, as he performed fairly well, and his build-up play was fine. There is, however, a question to be asked about whether Carroll fits into Liverpool's best (in the sense of being the most effective) eleven.

But that is a question for another time. The main problem for Liverpool on Sunday was their inability to deal with Tottenham's patient pressure and possession football - not that it posed a real threat to Pepe Reina, but it was disheartening to see that Tottenham were able to comfortably dominate for large periods, especially in the first-half. Part of the problem lay with the defensive shape which, although sturdy, didn't easily allow Liverpool to turn defence into attack. This diagram shows what happened when Tottenham held possession in Liverpool's half:

The back four would squeeze very narrow, and the two wide midfielders would track their opposing wingers very deep - Maxi in particular had clearly been instructed to double up on Aaron Lennon. In the main, this neutralised Tottenham's attacking threat (their goals came from a deflected shot from a corner and a dodgy penalty decision, after all), but once Spurs were a goal to the good, a more pro-active approach was needed. Modric's dynamic playmaking dominated the midfield where white shirts outnumbered reds 4-to-2 on occasion, with Pienaar drifting in from the flanks and Van der Vaart dropping deep to receive the ball.

The problem was that Liverpool didn't have the personnel available to them to diffuse the pressure and grab a hold of the game. I am not, generally, overly critical of the current squad, but we missed a ball-playing defender like Daniel Agger (who is injured), and, perhaps more crucially, a real quality midfield playmaker in the mould of Alonso or Aquilani who could hold onto possession in tight spaces and pass the ball out from defence when under pressure. We also didn't have the kind of wingers who could carry the ball up the pitch, so Spearing and Lucas tended to attempt risky direct passes more frequently than they perhaps should have. Sandro did a good job of anchoring the Spurs midfield which limited the opportunities for easy passes to Suarez in particular. And their backline stayed deep even when Tottenham had possession which meant that Liverpool couldn't diffuse pressure by hitting simple balls over the top or into the channels for Suarez or Carroll to chase. There was quite a large gap between the two front-men and the two defensive 'banks of four,' and it is possible that the inclusion of an extra attack-minded central midfielder (like Jonjo Shelvey, who was impressive again in his brief substitute appearance) in place of Andy Carroll might've given Liverpool a better chance of winning the game.

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