Liverpool and Tottenham played out an entertaining “Premier League type” 2-2 draw at Anfield. It was a game full of twists and turns especially in the later part. Mohamed Salah gave the home side a perfect with an early goal but Spurs come back with a brilliant finish by Victor Wanyama. The finale of this enthralling encounter had a great Salah goal and a controversial Harry Kane penalty. We shall analyse the game with depth to understand the tactical nuances of both the managers.
The game began as expected in a high-octane manner with both sides trying to assert authority in midfield. Tottenham had their diamond midfield with Christian Eriksen tucking in alongside Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele. Liverpool, on the other hand, had a midfield three very narrow and a narrow front-line pressing from the front. An early mistake or one would say unexpected piece of play from Dier enabled Salah to go in behind the Spurs’ back-line. The Egyptian then scored with a plomp.
Surprisingly, after that goal, the home side went into a lower block pressing shape. The front-line did press the opposition build-up but the midfield and defence were determined not allow any space in between the lines and/or space out wide for the fullbacks. Spurs in response were very determined on the ball to make something happen but a tight defensive shape in front of them made it difficult to carve out clear openings.
Even with the away side having more possession first half, it was the home side who were looking dangerous on the counter-attacks. Had it been a good cut back from Mane or a less weighted pass from Salah to the Senegalese, Liverpool would have been two up by the interval. From Spurs’ point of view, it was a sporadic first half with possession in their own half not being converted into chances in the opposition half.
The second half as a whole was a major surprise for many at Anfield. Pochettino made a slight change in his shape by bringing Dele Alli more centrally, the Englishman was a bit wider on the left in the first half. This allowed him to have more space in between the lines as Liverpool midfield tired down with Jordon Henderson struggling with fitness and James Milner starving of stamina.
This prompted Jurgen Klopp to make changes in midfield with Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing tired Henderson and ineffective Mane. At this point, the home side went into their shell only defending in the lower block and Spurs winning second balls. The reason to it was Reds’ defensive clearances being just a thump down the ground rather than trying to play it to midfield and build a counter-attack.
In the above images, we can see the heatmaps of Liverpool and Tottenham’s midfield and supporting forward players. It clearly shows how much dominance Spurs had on the middle areas of the pitch. Liverpool’s midfield were ineffective especially in the second half because of defenders just clearing their lines and no structure were made to start a counter-attack. It was mainly just a ball up the field with hope to find Salah or Firmino.
This in turn enabled Spurs’ backline to win the second balls on many occasions forcing Reds to defend deep almost throughout the second half. The overall possession of 64% in favour of Tottenham away from home just tells us the entire story.
The above image clearly shows us the performance score of both teams possession-wise in minute spells. As distinctively as it gets, Spurs up the ante in the second half with more control in possession and Liverpool’s control just dipped two-fold. The reason, as mentioned earlier was midfield looking leggy and ineffective on the ball. Credit to Tottenham and Pochettino though, for continued exertion of pressure. The diamond midfield enabled them to be assertive in the middle and with high fullbacks, the width was always on the offer.
Klopp’s men though did defend well for most parts of the game. They had 25 blocks overall with 41 clearances in the game. Although, the clearances count could have been less with the back-line looking to play out, but it was not the case. The pass success rate was impressive from Spurs’ part with 80%. In contradiction, Liverpool had a success rate of only 67%.
In all fairness, regardless of the controversies, the draw result should be deemed fair to both teams. Liverpool, with Salah in their ranks always had a chance on the counter-attacks, while Spurs were dominant in the second half and deservedly got a point away from Anfield. The only concern for the Reds should be the legginess their midfield showed in the second half which handed the initiative to Spurs.
In a pivotal game for the top-four push, both teams needed a win to get some control, especially Tottenham. This stalemate meant Liverpool are still ahead in the race with vital last 12 league games coming up. For Spurs, their next game against Arsenal is probably a must-win. Apart from the title race in the league, we have an interesting top-four and relegation race going on. For Liverpool to achieve fourth spot, consistency is required in the final and ofcourse the vital part of the season.