Tottenham travelled to Anfield on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run while their hosts, Liverpool, had yet to win a league match in 2017 (zero from five). That form has helleen Spurs earn 11-points more than the Reds, converting a seven-point deficit on New Year’s Day into a four-point lead prior to kick-off.
Jurgen Klopp was hoping his side could use the match against one of their top four challengers as a springboard for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino’s men looked to close the gap on leaders Chelsea to six-points before the Blues travelled to Burnley’s fortress, Turf Moor.
What was built-up as a clash between two sides who deploy similar styles of play certainly lived up to its billing, especially in the first-half and particularly for one team.
The home side were once again without Dejan Lovren so Lucas remained in the side as centre-back while Georginio Wijnaldum replaced the out of form Emre Can in midfield.
This fixture saw Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Philip Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana start a home game for the first time since the 6-1 hammering of Watford over three-months ago.
Tottenham were without Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen due to injuries so just like their win at home to Middlesbrough last week, Pochettino opted for a back-four with Eric Dier alongside Toby Alderweireld and Ben Davies in the left-back position.
Players such as Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Wijnaldum were catching Spurs on their heels and quickly turning over possession. This resulted in all kinds of space behind Tottenham’s staggered backline, particularly down the flanks as Davies, and especially Kyle Walker, would start to push forwards only to see their teammates dispossessed without notice.
In the build-up to Mané’s opening goal, Liverpool showed a greater desire than their opponents. Lallana had already nicked the ball from Victor Wanyama before Firmino showed great anticipation to get ahead of Alderwiereld (as shown above). This selfless play by the Brazilian pulled the defender out of position and allowed Wijnaldum to slip a well-weighted pass for Mané whose devastating pace exploited Spurs’ staggered defence.
The second (see above), which arrived only a couple of minutes later, was once again down to a combination of desire, anticipation and intelligent running.
Mané and Firmino were quick on to Dier’s slightly heavy touch as they squeezed possession from the England international. Davies had to cover the space which saw Mané – encouraged by Firmino – pick out Lallana’s deep run. After Lloris had denied both Lallana and Firmino, Mané was on hand to volley home and galvanise an already energetic crowd.
Moments later, Walker lacked the necessary composure to deal with three Liverpool players in close quarters. The full-back should have played a pass to Dier but instead opted for a long-ball towards Lloris. The miscued attempt put Davies under all kinds of unwanted pressure as Mané accelerated past the Welshman, only to be denied a quick fire hat-trick by Lloris’ inner thigh.
The Senegalese international was giving his marker a torrid time and was again denied by Lloris from the resulting corner to make it four attempts, four on target and two goals in just seven-minutes.
Constrict and Contain
Much to the delight of Klopp and captain, Henderson, Liverpool were able to display a different side to their game in the second-half as they kept Tottenham at arm’s length, protecting their two-goal advantage.
There was a complete reversal in possession between both halves with Liverpool going from 54% in the first to 46% in the second.
But the visitors didn’t discourage a high-press as they attempted 96 passes (83.3% completion) in their defensive third compared to Liverpool’s 39 (92.3% completion).
That led to the Reds swarming Spurs, resulting in a total of eight attempts on target in the opening 45-minutes. The most any Tottenham side has conceded since Opta began in 2003/04.
Tottenham, meanwhile, could only muster two on target. One of those was an effort from Son having broken the defensive line only to be thwarted by Simon Mignolet. With Liverpool dominating and two-goals to the good, that chance could easily have flipped the momentum on its head and tested Liverpool’s resolve.
Where Liverpool prospered most was in the productivity of their midfield and attack compared to Tottenham’s. The tables below show stats for the respective midfields and attacks of both sides:
What is clear is just how much more effective Liverpool’s half-dozen were compared to Tottenham’s. Wijnaldum stands out for his passing, ball recoveries and tackles, while the only chance he created led to Mané’s first.
The total number of passes in the attacking third also indicates Liverpool’s territorial dominance with more than double the successful attempts of their opponents, which equated to more than twice as many shots at goal.
While one forward was doing selfless work, nearly scoring a rebound which led to the second goal and acting as the trigger to most of the pressing, the other was…not.
Just a glance at their respective dashboards from the game will show how quiet and isolated Kane was compared to Firmino. Tottenham’s top scorer didn’t even have an attempt on goal and perhaps let his frustrations get the better of him with his first booking of the campaign on 67-minutes. In fact, six of the seven bookings came during a more disjointed second-half.
So far, the England forward has had less of an impact in the big games this season. Since breaking into the Spurs team during the 2014/15, Kane has only failed to attempt a shot at goal or create a chance on three occasions against those in the current top six. All three have occurred during this campaign (Liverpool home and away as well as Chelsea at home). For a full breakdown, open this PDF.
Based on the table above, Kane is half as effective this season compared to last in terms of goals and assists. However, with home games against Man Utd and Arsenal still to come, there’s every chance his return will improve, particularly as his goals per game at home since 14/15 is 0.55 compared to 0.38 away. Although, it’s more likely to improve via the Arsenal game than it is against Man Utd as shown below.
Noticeably, Kane enjoys playing against North-London rivals, Arsenal, the most and Man Utd the least. Only Man City at home 13/14 (6) saw Kane surpass his average number of shots against Arsenal (5.25) while only Chelsea at home 13/14 (2) saw Kane surpass his average number of goals against the Gunners (1.25).
Liverpool thoroughly deserved this win and that will hurt Pochettino. The Argentinian manager has only won one game away to the top six rivals since arriving from Southampton in 2014. This match wasn’t lost due to two, albeit very good players, being unavailable through injury. Nor was it because of a return to their most common formation (4-2-3-1). The loss exposed a weakness in mentality from a side who appeared shellshocked after Liverpool’s blistering start.
Spurs need more goals against the big sides with just nine in eight so far and five different scorers. Kane’s form in those matches is a contributing factor which is why the club will need stronger reinforcements this summer than they managed last. Although, Alli’s tally of four from those nine shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Klopp on the other hand will be delighted with a masterclass in gegenpressing during the first-period. He’ll expect his side to build on this victory with a two-week break until they travel to wounded Foxes, Leicester. During that time, Tottenham have four games (two in the Europa League and one in both the FA Cup and League). It’s this advantage in preparation time coupled with Mané’s return that could see Liverpool finish in the top four for only the second time in seven years.
EPL Results (Gameweek 25):
Arsenal 2-0 Hull
Man Utd 2-0 Watford
Middlesbrough 0-0 Everton
Stoke 1-0 Crystal Palace
Sunderland 0-4 Southampton
West Ham 2-2 West Brom
Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham
Burnley 1-1 Chelsea
Swansea 2-0 Leicester
Bournemouth 0-2 Man City