Tottenham Hotspur 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review & Analysis

Most of the time, the result achieved against a team the previous season in the same fixture is entirely irrelevant. It’s only worth talking about in that campaign, lacking any relation to the current iteration of the competition and therefore not worth talking about. When it comes to the match against Tottenham, however, it’s very much worth mentioning. Our humbling at their hands last time out proved to be something of a watershed for the Reds, with Jürgen Klopp calling a team meeting to go over the mistakes and look at how we could improve defensively if we were to challenge for major honours. It worked, of course, with Liverpool going on to develop one of the best defensive records in the league from then on. In fact, the season was looked at as being in two halves – before Wembley and after. Today was, therefore, a chance to see how far we’d really come. Was it to be another match in which the ‘new look’ Reds continued on their journey towards challenging Manchester City, or would our weaknesses be exposed once more up against a fellow top-four contender?

Liverpool have started this season doing just enough. The result against West Ham United on the opening game of the campaign gave the impression that we were purring, but in reality we’d been stumbling before today but getting the results. Heading towards kick-off we had a chance to turn it on in our first big game of the year to date, getting revenge for our last trip to Wembley at the same time. The problem is that Spurs have also had something of a mixed start to the season, battering Manchester United at Old Trafford but then losing to Watford just before the international break. Mauricio Pochettino is one of the managers who knows how to get the better of Jürgen Klopp, so this was always likely to be a battle of wits as much as the ability of the two sets of players. We’d started the season with a 100% record, but this always felt like the first real test that we were going to face. This match, as much as the games in general in September and October, was destined to tell us plenty about Liverpool’s season. So what did we learn?

That Was Revenge

The scoreline might not have shown it, but that was every bit as dominant a display as we saw from Spurs in the same fixture last time out. Liverpool were all over them from the first minute, not showing any of the sloppiness that we’ve seen from the team when they’ve returned from international matches previously; think back to the 0-0 draw against Manchester United two years ago, for example, when we didn’t look at the races. Instead we took the fight to the home side and they simply couldn’t handle it. Perhaps the most thrilling thing from our point of view is that we still haven’t even got close to properly clicking yet. Even so, if we’d scored five or six today then it wouldn’t have flattered us in any way. Spurs might feel as though the 2-1 scoreline meant that they were in it until the closing moments of the game, but the actual play didn’t really reflect that.

How much is that because of the way that we played and how much of it is because the home side played poorly? That’s the eternal question, of course, but I’m not sure that it’s fair to Liverpool to suggest that Tottenham just didn’t turn up. We harried them from the word ‘go’, doing to them what they’ve done to us in previous games. We obviously wanted to give them a bloody nose after what they did to us last time we went to Wembley and we did just that, creating enough Clear Cut Chances to mean that it was a demolition job in all but the scoreline. The key thing isn’t just that we won, it’s that they never really looked threatening and they only got the goal when our defence was in something of disarray during the last five minutes, with the change that sees Joel Matip coming on being one I simply don’t understand and hate to see.

The Front Three Needs To Get Back Into The Groove

I’ve been critical of Roberto Firmino in the first four games, thinking that he’s looked as though he’s still suffering from a post-World Cup hangover, but it was good to see him back to his more intelligent and less heavy-footed best. He’s always a thorn in the side of defenders, but I felt as though his passing and control wasn’t great prior to today. Whilst he seemed to be back to ‘normal’, however, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah weren’t making the best choices as they were moving forward. The team was playing really well everywhere but in the final third, which is pretty much the opposite of how things were during the first year and a half of Jürgen Klopp’s reign. The positive thing is that you feel as though it will click sooner rather than later and when it does the opposition we’re facing will be in trouble. The negative aspect is that we’re all hoping that that actually happens.

What will be at the back of the manager’s head is that the poorest decision making came about when players were being selfish. Both Mané and Salah had opportunities to find someone else in the last twenty minutes or so but instead they chose to go for goal, even though passing would’ve been the better option. The fear is that the players are starting to get competitive with each other over their goalscoring exploits rather than remembering that they’re part of a team that should be working together to help the club. I’m obviously hopeful that that’s complete nonsense on my behalf, but the moment in the second-half when Mané had both Keita and Salah with him and chose to go to Keita set an alarm bell ringing. This team has the ability to do something truly special this season, so we don’t want anything getting in the way of that. When the forwards remember what made them so exceptional last season, we’ll absolutely take-off.

You Can See Why Klopp Doesn’t Love Sturridge

Speaking of forwards, one thing that was made eminently clear in this match was why, exactly, the manager isn’t giving Daniel Sturridge more game time. There are vast swathes of Liverpool supporters that believe that the England striker should be starting more games for us, but I’m not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sturridge and will forever remember him with fondness thanks to his exploits alongside Luis Suarez in the 2013-2014 campaign. Yet the truth is that he simply doesn’t offer the work rate that is needed to operate in this Liverpool team. When he came on he did what he has always done; he took up good positions and was clever on the ball. What he didn’t do, however, was attempt to close down the Tottenham defenders or harry the opposition in the same way that his counterpart Firmino does when he’s on the pitch.

Some Liverpool supporters believe that it’s ‘laziness’ from Daniel Sturridge, but I don’t think that’s fair. The striker has always been about his positioning, his intelligent moving and his killer instinct rather than about his constant closing down of other players. It’s entirely fine to say that he’s very good at what he does but that what he does isn’t what this team needs. Compare and contract the play of the forward with that of Xherdan Shaqiri when he came on against Leicester City before the international break. Shaqiri is a player that no-one expected to offer much in the way of work rate, yet he continually got into the faces of the Foxes’ defenders and didn’t give them a minute. Having been such an important part of the Liverpool team make-up in the past, Sturridge will surely not be around Anfield for much longer. That’s no criticism of him, it’s just that we’ve moved on as a club.

The Midfield Remains Full Of Options

The performances I was most impressed with today were those of James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum. Anyone who has ever read any of my stuff will know that I’m not always as into the Milner love-in as everyone else, but I thought that he was excellent today. He seemed to cover every blade of grass, constantly made the right decision and was always giving his teammates an option. As for Wijnaldum, he’s often lambasted as being a player who can only perform in his team’s home stadium, but he produced the goods when necessary today. I think that the Dutchman is someone who needs to be given a clear job to do, which isn’t always forthcoming from Jürgen Klopp. The manager seems to like players who can roll with the punches and respond to the situation that’s in front of them, but Wijnaldum isn’t as good at that as he is at being a cog in a well-oiled machine.

Today, however, Gini worked really well in a midfield that was happy to shift gears every now and again. He told Sky Sports after the match that the goal actually came about because of a bit of confusion between him and Joe Gomez, with the two misunderstanding what the other was going to do. It was confusion that the Reds benefitted from, with the former Newcastle midfielder rising up to power a strong header towards goal that Michel Vorm couldn’t keep out. It was the ideal time for Wijnaldum to step up, given that Naby Keita seems to finding the transition to playing in the Premier League much harder than most supporters expected. I said after his performance against West Ham that some people were getting a little too carried away with it and I feel as though his performances since have vindicated that. It’s not that he’s been bad, he just hasn’t been the all-powerful player some people expected. He’s another option in a brilliantly stocked, midfield, however, so when he really gets into the mood it’ll be thrilling to watch.

Technology Works

Just one quick shout out for the use of goal-line technology today. I remember when it was first introduced that plenty of football supporters and pundits were dead against it, believing that it went against the way that the sport is ‘supposed’ to be played. It was great, therefore, to see it work so simply and correctly during the match. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what Harry Winks thought that he was arguing with Michael Oliver over, given that it was about two foot over the line and his watch went off to say as much. There are many legitimate criticisms of VAR, but the tech in use today should help people to realise that technology can be brought into the game seamlessly and easily and help the men in the middle to make more correct decisions.

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