Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham: neither side step it up in the second half

February 6, 2012

The starting line-ups

A decent game but no goals.

Kenny Dalglish had Luis Suarez available again but kept him on the bench. Jose Enrique missed his first game of the season, so Glen Johnson moved to the left with Martin Kelly at right-back.

Harry Redknapp was absent from the match. Tottenham had various injury problems so went for a conservative 4-5-1 shape, with Jake Livermore in the centre and Niko Kranjcar out wide.

Midfield battle

This was more like the kind of game we usually get between two ‘big’ sides – a little bit cagey, slow to get going, and both sides working each other out in the opening moments. In the first half there was very little to speak about in the wide areas – all the interest was in the centre.

The sides were set out differently. At the start Liverpool were more 4-2-3-1 than 4-3-3, with Steven Gerrard high up and connecting with Andy Carroll, with the two other players sitting deeper, albeit with Adam having a little more license to get forward.

The Tottenham midfield triangle was structured the opposite way, with Parker at the bottom the clear holding player, and Luka Modric and Livermore moving further up. This meant the two triangles largely matched each other.

Highest midfielders move deeper

There were some exceptions to that. Gerrard, for example, dropped off without the ball and didn’t pressure Parker, so he had time on the ball to play safe passes. This rather negated the point of Liverpool’s early closing down, with Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy all working hard to put pressure on the Spurs defence. Parker was an easy out-ball.

Similarly, Luka Modric started quite high up but became much deeper. Jay Spearing had time to pick a pass, though his more ambitious balls were often wayward. He also lacks the positional sense of Lucas Leiva when a teammate has possession – he stands still when there is an opponent in between himself and the player with the ball, meaning a pass is impossible. The Liverpool way is ‘pass and move’, but sometimes you need to ‘move and pass’.

Modric showed him how to do it, with another exceptional display of precise passing.

Movement

As the game went on, Gerrard started to drift around, dragging Parker out of position. Parker was excellent late on, but earlier committed needless fouls and was often too far ahead of the defence – Liverpool could have been cleverer in getting a player between the lines once Parker had been tempted up the pitch by Gerrard, but neither wide player came inside and Adam lacked the mobility and pace to storm forward.

Indeed, it was Tottenham’s midfield trio that tilted more effectively towards the end of the first half, leading to a couple of good spells of possession. They were much more patient than usual on the ball, probably owing to the different system.

The only interesting battle on the wing was Kyle Walker v Bellamy – Walker forced Bellamy back into deep positions, but Bellamy did a good defensive job (on both Walker and others) and Johnson had a good game at left-back.

Carroll v Adebayor

After two assists in two weeks, Andy Carroll looked confident here. He won balls in the air, his movement was good, his hold-up ability helped link play. He was considerably better than Emmanuel Adebayor, who will argue that he was isolated with few runners from central midfield, but his hold-up play was particularly poor, he didn’t move into good positions, and was rarely a goal threat.

There were few goalmouth incidents in the first half, but it was actually a decent game – finely-balanced, good passing in midfield, but no real threat upfront. Half time was about how the two managers could change that.

Changes

The problem was that neither manager (or Tottenham’s coaches, rather) changed things straight away, with the exception of Bale and Kranjcar swapping flanks for a period in the second half. Dalglish left things for too long, and unless Suarez had any fitness concerns after his long break, it’s difficult to see why he didn’t replace Kuyt earlier. The Dutchman wasn’t really contributing anything – he didn’t move inside into the position he scored against Manchester United from, and instead stayed wide but rarely tried to take on Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

When Suarez did finally arrive, for Kuyt, it meant Gerrard going to the right and Suarez going upfront. Parker now had no-one to mark and moved deeper role where he excelled, chasing back to make last-ditch tackles and getting into good positions to clear. It might have been nice to see Suarez on in Kuyt’s role, with Gerrard still in the middle. Then, Gerrard could have taken Parker away from that zone, with Suarez coming inside from the flank as the ’second number ten’, a little like how Mesut Ozil played well at the Nou Camp recently with Kaka occupying Sergio Busquets. That isn’t Suarez’s natural role, of course, but that seemed to the area Tottenham were vulnerable in, and he is adaptable enough to play there.

Tottenham’s change was like-for-like – Louis Saha on for Adebayor. They had the clearest chance of the game when Kranjcar played in Bale over the top with the Liverpool defence a little too high up the pitch, but Bale’s shot was poor, and 0-0 probably reflected the balance of play.

Conclusion

With the sides matching each other in midfield, the key to gaining the upper hand was always going to be about changing the game from the bench. Tottenham barely changed things at all, while Liverpool brought on Suarez, but probably too late, and possibly not in the right role. Carroll played well but finished poorly, while Adebayor and Saha were barely involved. Neither side did enough to score.


Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham: neither side step it up in the second half

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