Liverpool Vs Tottenham Hotspur Preview
It’s 8th against 3rd in the Premier League this afternoon as Liverpool host Tottenham Hotspur, with one team out of contention for any honours this season, and the other able to afford a couple of slip ups and still finish in the top four. On the surface, this week’s Sky Sports Super Sunday offering would appear a difficult sell. So why am I this excited?
Aside from my alleigance to Liverpool, my (usually) friendly rivalry with my Spurs supporting mates, and the fact that there are some excellent individuals on show, this should be fascinating from a tactical viewpoint.
It says something about Jose Mourinho that while many managers surround themselves with yes men, (yes, you Mike Phelan) he had both of these talented young managers working under him during his time at Chelsea. Neither is the type to conform to the opinion of another, and both would have been able to offer views for Jose to ponder.
While there are similarities between the current Real Madrid and Tottenham teams, (James Horncastle writes brilliantly about the similarities in Mourinho and AVB’s coaching styles here) both Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers are very much their own men with their own ideas.
Liverpool have a real identity under Brendan Rodgers and incredibly, when you compare them to Tottenham, a club synonymous with passing football, especially in recent years, the Anfield club have managed a staggering 25% more successful passes in the Premier League this season with 12,537 to 10,059.
Since the January additions, Liverpool have also carried a far greater goal threat, with multiple recent 4-0 and 5-0 victories. Surprisingly they have even scored more goals in the league than today’s opposition.
After watching Villas-Boas’ entertaining-but-slightly-more-open than he would like Chelsea side last year, I have been surprised by the efficiency of his new team, especially considering they were very open and attacking before his arrival.
The signings have been particularly astute, with Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele three who have fitted in seemlessly and each added new dimensions to the side.
Their strengths are suited to playing away from home where their quick players have more space to run into. This is highlighted by the fact that 13 of Gareth Bale’s 16 goals have come on the road this season.
These are two teams very much growing into their respective manager’s ideas, and also, currently in form.
While the ‘Special One’ famously is highly secretive, and even gives false information directly to the press about his starting line ups, Brendan Rodgers seems to place almost no importance on the matter. Liverpool’s team is usually floating around Twitter a day or two before the game.
Today the rumours suggest Rodgers is going to field a very attack minded XI, with Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho in the wide areas, and Luis Suarez playing off Daniel Sturridge.
Spurs have a decision on who will lead the line, with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor both in contention, and the left side of midfield could see a start for any of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey or Lewis Holtby.
Both will follow the current trend of English teams and play attack minded 4-2-3-1 formations.
Tottenham Counter-Attacking Threat
The Reds have, at times this season, looked open in midfield and susceptible to counter attacks. This is likely to be a weakness in this team throughout the Rodgers reign.
However, as they become more cohesive with the early pressing their manager is attempting to implement, they will shut off passing lines faster, and consequently it will be increasingly difficult for opponents to take advantage of the gaps they choose to leave by playing this type of game.
As witnessed this season, it is very much still a case of a work in progress at Melwood, and these are precisely the type of weaknesses that Tottenham’s rapid forward line of Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, and of course, Gareth Bale thrive on exploiting.
The two players who most is expected from in an attacking sense, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, will have key defensive roles today.
I’d expect Lucas Leiva, the deepest man in Liverpool’s midfield, to have a keen eye on Bale for the duration. It won’t be a man marking job by any stretch, but he will have to cover both full backs, especially Jose Enrique down Spurs’ right, as Bale picks the ball up wide and tries to come inside to get shots off on his left foot.
The extent of lateral ground Lucas will have to cover will have a knock on effect on Gerrard and Suarez. In recent matches, Lucas has been seen pressing very high with the rest of the team but he is not the quickest and I expect his priorities to be slightly deeper during this match. Therefore, Gerrard will be up against both Scott Parker and Mousa Dembele for large parts of the game.
Suarez is not one to shirk hard work, and I would expect him to be looking to get close to Parker as soon as Liverpool concede possession. Daniel Sturridge will likely be asked to do this at times when he is the closer player.
I still feel this is an area Spurs can exploit. Dembele is a fine dribbler, and if he manages to take Gerrard out of the game with a customary drop of the shoulder, however deep this occurs, it will open up the pitch for other players, as Suarez will not be tasked with tracking all the way back. Abou Diaby did it on numerous occasions at Anfield early in the season, taking on players in his own half and rendering Liverpool’s back four and holding player very exposed.
If this occurs, Liverpool will need to transition quickly into a more compact defensive shape. Brendan Rodgers spoke recently about the team beginning to recognise when to press and when to fall back into a block. Against Tottenham’s pace, managing this quickly still may not be quick enough.
It will be very interesting to see how Liverpool manage to recover after initial pressing has failed.
Liverpool’s Right Side
In recent months, a relationship has blossomed between Glen Johnson and Stewart Downing on Liverpool’s right side. Strangely the full back is a more potent weapon than the winger, but Downing has been an excellent foil for him. While Philippe Coutinho on the left will drift into central areas where Kyle Walker will pass him on and be able to engage Jose Enrique, Downing is less comfortable picking the ball up in crowded central areas. In his current position on the right, the left footed Downing naturally plays a little more inside than he would on the left. However he stays in zones where Benoit Assou-Ekotto will have to directly mark him more often than not, potentially leaving space for Johnson to go into and creating numerical advantage if the visitors aren’t careful. Alternatively, if Downing is hugging the touchline, Johnson is equally comfortable, if not more so, cutting in to shoot on his weaker left foot. It will be crucial for Tottenham that whoever operates on the left of their midfield, usually Gylfi Sigurdsson in recent games, offers excellent protection for his full back.
Daniel Sturridge Vs Tottenham High Line
As Gary Neville excellently illustrated last week, Villas-Boas favours a dangerously aggressive high defensive line whenever possible. Last week, partly down to bad passing, partly because of Olivier Giroud’s lack of pace, Tottenham were not exposed. In Gerrard, Suarez and Coutinho, Liverpool have three players who can pick a through ball. More worrying for Spurs should be the signs that Daniel Sturridge actually does have a footballing brain since his January move. At Chelsea, he was restricted to wide roles and rarely looked dangerous off the ball. Since going to Anfield and being the central striker in the team, he is looking likely to get behind defences with runs almost at will. It has been a facet of his game that was completely hidden at Stamford Bridge, but has now been unearthed, and will be a huge asset to Liverpool in the future.
After Neville’s claims that the success of Spurs’ high line was more luck than skill last week, something that AVB will have listened to, even if not quite agreed with, this game will be a big indicator of whether the former Manchester United full back was right.
With high defensive lines, either side needs a goalkeeper ready to rush out and negate danger. Both Pepe Reina and Hugo Lloris are very eager to come off their line. While Lloris’ judgement has been impeccable this season, Reina infamously rushed off his line needlessly to cost Liverpool a win at Manchester City recently. Good or bad decision making from the keepers in a game expected to feature a lot of attempted passes behind the defences could win or lose this game.
Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur.
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