Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool: Lennon wins it late
Spurs came from behind yet again to record a last-gasp victory.
Harry Redknapp continued with his 4-4-1-1 system, with Rafael van der Vaart off Peter Crouch, and Jermain Defoe on the bench. Wilson Palacios was chosen in the holding role – the rest of the side was as excpected.
Roy Hodgson used a 4-4-2 formation, pairing David Ngog and Fernando Torres. Lucas Leiva replaced Christian Poulsen in the centre of midfield in the only change from last weekend’s win over West Ham.
Redknapp was forced into a very early change, however, when van der Vaart had to depart through injury, being replaced by Defoe.
Although in theory this means a change in shape because the Dutchman is an attacking midfielder whilst Defoe is a striker, Spurs didn’t have to reshape too much. Van der Vaart has been playing something similar to the ‘Defoe role’ in terms of getting on the end of Crouch’s knockdowns so far this season (whilst doing other things, of course), and so Defoe slotted back in easily.
In fact, towards the end of last season, it was common to see Defoe dropping into midfield when Spurs lost the ball (see the win over Chelsea), which shows that Redknapp had moved to a slightly un-4-4-2 approach even before van der Vaart’s arrival.
The game was one of similar formations but contrasting approaches. Spurs played high up the pitch, looked to attack and dominated the ball, whilst Liverpool sat back and defended much deeper. Spurs’ brightest moments came when Liverpool had moved up the pitch slightly and space opened up, although strangely (considering how narrow Liverpool played), Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale both looked more threatening when they came into the centre of the pitch.
The reason for that is probably because Spurs didn’t move the ball quickly enough in the centre of midfield, which meant their wingers rarely got the chance to run at Liverpool’s full-backs in 1 v 1 situations. Without Tom Huddlestone, Spurs were playing Palacios in the deep midfield role. Palacios had plenty of time on the ball in deep positions thanks to Liverpool’s 4-4-2 not really having a man occupying him, but his passing was dreadful – some were overhit, some were underhit, and he simply doesn’t possess anything like the vision or range Huddlestone does.
Still, credit should go to Liverpool for keeping Bale quiet – the man deserving of praise here is Dirk Kuyt, possibly the best ‘defensive winger’ around. Lennon was more of a threat early on.
One wouldn’t say that Liverpool’s goal – a scrappy Martin Skrtel toe-poke – was coming, but the presence of two strikers meant they were always a threat, even when they were camped inside their own half. Torres and Ngog are both good at running the channels and Ngog did a fine job at holding the ball and linking play. It was he who won the free-kick that resulted in the goal, drawing a foul from the substitute Sebastien Bassong.
After the goal Liverpool suddenly looked like more of a threat with quick, direct balls to the front two. Maxi Rodriguez and Torres both failed to take advantage of one-on-one situations.
Backs-to-the-wall defending against a strong side is theoretically where Hodgson’s Liverpool are best – the good performances against Arsenal, Chelsea and Napoli back that up, and support the idea that Hodgson still has a ’small club’ mentality when it comes to tactics. At half-time, Liverpool were in a strong position.
With Tottenham down at half-time, it’s entirely possible that Redknapp would have made changes had he not been forced into two first-half substitutions. Instead, the two sides emerged with the same XIs and formations after the break and tactically, little changed.
Liverpool’s central midfield was working well despite the absence of Steven Gerrard – Raul Meireles and Lucas did not have fixed ’sides’, taking it in turns to move right and left but always remaining relatively solid. Lucas got around the pitch well and got plenty of tackles in.
It was individual weaknesses and errors that eventually cost Liverpool. Ngog got away with his handball because Defoe missed from the spot, but a simple lack of pace in the full-back positions were responsible for both Spurs’ goals. Midway through the first half, Modric surged past three men to square for Skrtel to deflect the ball into his own net.
Liverpool created chances, but more than tactics or strategy, it was the simple concept of ‘momentum’ that made Spurs more likely to get the third goal. Again, it was a lack of pace of a Liverpool full-back that resulted in the goal – Konchesky was no match for Lennon and the winger slid the ball home.
It was strange that it took until the 92nd minute for the Lennon v Konchesky battle to finally have a big impact on the game, considering that it seemed to be the most important contest early on. It also came from a subtle Crouch knockdown – that’s six assists in the last ten starts for him – the majority of them aerial knockdowns, which adds weight to the idea that using Crouch as an aerial route often works nicely.
In a sense, the lack of pace at the back justifies Hodgson’s deep defensive line – but of course he has to take responsibility for the errors in the second half. Liverpool defended poorly in the penalty area, which undermined the good work they did in the centre of midfield.
A “classic Premier League game” is supposedly the apt description from this game, which somewhat implies that there wasn’t a great level of tactical action going on. Both were broadly 4-4-2, and in 4-4-2 v 4-4-2 battles, it’s often individual contests that settles the game – Liverpool’s full-backs were the individuals who lost out.Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool: Lennon wins it late