Liverpool produced a scintillating performance at White Hart Lane, which sees them climb to second in the table.
Andre Villas-Boas made two changes to his side, introducing Roberto Soldado and Sandro to the starting line up.
Brendan Rodgers was forced to make one change to the side that defeated West Ham last week, as Lucas was placed in midfield for the injured Steven Gerrard.
Rodgers’ men were exceptional – they attacked and defended well as a unit, but most importantly they exposed Spurs’ highline.
A key component heading into this fixture was how both sides would approach the match without the ball. In possession, they both rely on ball retention, yet defensively they intend on applying pressure, and closing down their opponents in their third.
Spurs attempted to press Liverpool from the back with Soldado and Paulinho closing down the two centre backs, but Lucas Leiva dropped between Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho as the spare man. At times, Aaron Lennon and Moussa Dembele pushed forward to press Lucas, and a Liverpool fullback, but Nacer Chadli’s deep positioning provided Rodgers’ men with a passing outlet.
The odd feat in AVB’s approach was their reluctance to press in midfield. Spurs maintained an extremely high-line, but they allowed Liverpool’s midfield space and time to play passes across the pitch. The only defence Villas-Boas could make is Liverpool’s aim to overload central areas – Rodgers’ men already had a numerical advantage in central areas, but with Phillippe Coutinho drifting infield, Spurs were outnumbered 4v2.
Liverpool down the right
A common feat in the first half was Liverpool’s aim to isolate Kyle Naughton. Prior to Liverpool’s opener, Rodgers’ men constantly looked to overload and play balls behind the Spurs left back.
- 10th min: Henderson played a lovely diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling, and the Liverpool winger cut to his right, beating Naughton, and forcing him to foul Sterling at the edge of the 18-yard box.
- 11th min: Sterling intercepts Dembele’s pass and plays a one-two with Coutinho, before slipping a ball to Allen – behind Naughton – who delivers a cross into the box, thus leading to Sterling firing his shot over the net.
- 15th min: Etienne Capoue fails to clear Lucas’ corner, and the ball falls to Sterling, who cuts to his right, beats the Frenchman for space and drives a venomous cross into the box.
- 17th min: Coutinho drifted infield, dragging Chadli and Lennon out of position, before slipping a ball into Sterling. Chadli recovered his run, but was also beaten for pace by Sterling, but the Liverpool winger’s cross went right into Hugo Lloris’ hands.
- 47th min: Sterling got the better of Lewis Holtby by cutting towards the byline, and his lofted cross was met by Sakho, who nodded the ball off the post.
Sterling was Liverpool’s main threat leading up to Suarez’s opening goal – Rodgers utilized his pace, and instructed his men to play him into 1v1 situations. Naughton struggled throughout the entire half, and Ezekiel Fryers replaced him at half time.
Subsequently, Liverpool took the lead a minute after Sterling’s final threat in the opening 20 minutes. There’s no denying the quality of the finish, or Henderson’s influence on the situation, but the manner in which Spurs conceded was appalling.
Above we see Spurs’ shape after Dawson’s timely sliding interception to prevent Henderson from breaking free on goal. We also see Suarez behind Dembele, Sandro and Capoue.
Henderson’s persistence allowed him to nick the ball away from Dawson to play in Suarez, and the Uruguayan – who was initially behind the three Spurs players – ran onto the ball, anticipated Walker’s slide, swayed to the left and coolly slotted his shot past Lloris.
While Henderson’s run and determination plays a pivotal role towards the build-up of the goal, the work ethic and positional awareness of the Spurs trio was diabolical.
The most evident feat throughout the match was Spurs’ vulnerability maintaining an organized high-line, and Liverpool’s aim to get runners behind it. It also didn’t help that Villas-Boas was without Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches, thus forcing him to pair Capoue and Dawson against Suarez.
However, it was peculiar to see AVB stick with this approach, considering his results against both Manchester clubs this season. At the Ethiad, City blitzed Spurs’ backline, defeating them by six goals. Yet, against United, Spurs sat a few yards deeper and focused on minimizing passing lanes, and space between the lines.
Here, they reverted to the approach at the Ethiad, which ultimately made Rodger’s approach straightforward.
- 21st min: Sterling and Joe Allen dispossessed Chadli at the halfway line, and Sterling drove forward and played Suarez through, but the Uruguayan failed to slip his shot past Lloris.
- 23rd min: A simple Lucas long ball stretched Spurs’ backline and set Coutinho free on the left flank.
- 27th min: Lucas played a quick pass to Coutinho off a free kick, and the Brazilian spotted Suarez’s simple run into half-space. Suarez did well to hold the ball up, and cut it back to Coutinho, and his shot rattled the cross bar.
- 33rd min: A simple hoofed clearance from Martin Skrtel, sees Suarez run past the Spurs high-line and nearly double Liverpool’s lead. Lloris mistimed his header, and it fell to Suarez, but the French keeper did well to recover and deny the Uruguayan.
Villas-Boas’ approach was eccentric – he instructed his men to play a high-line, but no pressure was applied on the midfield, and Liverpool were allowed to easily bypass the Spurs midfield. Meanwhile, it was beneficial to Suarez, who is renowned for making runs into the channels and behind the backline.
This was a poor tactical approach from AVB, yet this isn’t the first time his preferred high-line has failed him in a big match.
Although Suarez may steal all the headlines based on his great form, and outstanding goal return, it’s key to note that Henderson was magnificent at White Hart Lane. At times, Henderson found himself in deeper positions playing long diagonals and retaining possession, but Spurs were unable to cope with his dynamism from midfield.
Henderson’s energetic runs from deep positions were integral to the buildup for three Liverpool goals. Rodgers was aware of Villas-Boas tactical naivety, and he encouraged the Liverpool midfielder to push forward and attack open space.
- 17th min: Henderson attacked space between Walker and Dawson, which gave Suarez a positive passing option. Dawson may have intercepted the pass, but Henderson’s run and persistence handed him the opportunity to lay the ball off for Suarez, thus leading to his opener.
- 39th min: Henderson starts his run at half between Lennon and Paulinho, and the Liverpool midfielder surges forward unmarked, and runs into space to receives Coutinho’s lay off. Lloris stopped Henderson and Suarez’s efforts, but the Englishman did well to convert the third attempt.
- 74th min: Henderson makes a run behind Chadli and into the space between Capoue and Walker. Walker does well to force Henderson wide, but he provides a nifty back heel to Suarez, who picks out Jon Flanagan at the back post, and he fires his shot off the cross bar to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead.
Henderson’s role was pivotal to Liverpool’s success at White Hart Lane. He was a proficient distributor from deep positions – alongside Allen he pressed Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho out of the match, and his energetic runs from midfield tormented the Spurs backline.
Spurs responded well in the second half as Liverpool oddly dropped deeper into their third, but Soldado missed two opportunities to cut down the two-goal deficit. While Spurs pushed forward, Liverpool had clear opportunities to expose Villas-Boas’ men on the counter – led by Henderson – but they often lacked the final ball.
Ultimately, Paulinho’s red card midway through the second half ended any chance of Spurs mounting a comeback. With Sandro’s injury in the first half, Dembele’s departure for Andros Townsend and Paulinho’s sending off, AVB was forced to field Lewis Holtby and Chadli in a 4-4-1.
Liverpool received more space in midfield to retain possession, and Rodgers’ men surprisingly only scored three goals, despite creating numerous opportunities.
This was a fantastic Liverpool performance, but it’s difficult to ignore Villas-Boas’ tactical naivety. The Portuguese manager looked to have learned from his mistakes based on his approach against United, but is eagerness to revert to back to his preferred philosophy has been suicidal. It let AVB down in big games throughout his career in England, and this time it cost him his job at White Hart Lane.
Rodgers’ men were diligent out of possession, and isolated Spurs’ deficiencies at every opportunity. Liverpool targeted Naughton, nullified their holding midfielders, and used an energetic midfielder to penetrate open space. The result will build confidence in the Liverpool dressing room, but it’s unlikely that they’ll enjoy such freedom on their trips to City and Chelsea – until then, it’s difficult to categorize Liverpool’s role in the title race.