Liverpool Find Their Attacking Fluency to Overcome Spurs
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When is it going to end? The run of form that Liverpool are currently on is not in keeping with the squad at their disposal or the quality of their coach. You have to go back to the 31st of December to find the last league victory for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Since then we have seen losses to both Hull City and Swansea City as well as draws with Chelsea, Manchester United and Sunderland.
Add in the capitulation in the FA Cup to Wolverhampton Wanderers and the EFL Cup semi-final defeat to Southampton and you have to think that this run of form could not go on much longer.
To make matters worse the next league game would be against one of the most in form sides in the league in Spurs. Under Mauricio Pochettino the side from North London have impressed with their attacking style of play, pressing their opponents into making mistakes and controlling large periods of the game.
What then could Liverpool do to withstand the pressure that would come from Spurs in this match? In recent weeks their defensive structure has been poor with opposition sides finding it too easy to penetrate and make their way through to goal.
Whilst the defensive issues have been concerning the issues in the attacking third have been more of an issue. The lack of movement and imagination from the Liverpool attack in recent weeks has been in sharp contrast to their form in the first half of the season. For a period they were almost unstoppable with the variety and the pace of their attacking movements but in recent weeks that has not been the case.
These attacking issues could surely not be solely attributed to the loss of Sadio Mane to the African Cup of Nations, could it?
After a period with injuries and suspensions robbing Liverpool of key players they were finally back to something approaching full strength. The Belgian international Simon Mignolet started in goal behind the back line of Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Matip, Lucas Leiva and James Milner.
In the midfield Jordan Henderson was again the controlling midfielder with Adam Lallana playing to his left and Giorginio Wijnaldum to the right. The attacking line saw Sadio Mane play on the right with Roberto Firmino back in his central role with the Brazilian attacker Coutinho back on the left side of the field.
Liverpool move back to their pressing best
The high octane pressing style of play that we associate with Jurgen Klopp has been missing of late with the first and second pressing lines no longer being as in sync as they were in the early stages of the season with little coordination between the players as they looked to engage the ball.
In this match the quality and quantity of pressing actions was once again where we expected it to be as Liverpool finally looked more like their side from the early stages.
Spurs are well known as a side that builds their attacking phase through their centre-backs, who are all comfortable on the ball and capable of either passing or running with the ball to effect the defensive structure of the opposition. They are able to play either a back four or a back three with ease but in this match their defensive players were unable to enjoy easy possession against an aggressive press.
Here we can see Firmino and Lallana moving in to engage the man in possession of the ball. The Brazilian uses the position of his body to cut off the passing lanes to two Spurs players making it near impossible for the ball to be reset back to one of the other defenders. Lallana and Wijnaldum are also positioned to cut off passing options.
These pressing movements and the positional structure forces Spurs to look to access the middle and final third through long and direct passes.
After scoring twice in the early stages of the match Liverpool adapted their pressing structure slightly to allow Spurs a little more freedom in their own half of the field.
Here Spurs are in possession of the ball with Wanyama but once again the pressing players from Liverpool are in position to cut off any easy passing options. Yet again Spurs are left to try to access the final third of the pitch through direct passes.
The use of body position in this manner is put in place on the training field and you can clearly see all the work that Klopp and his staff have put in to instruct their players.
Movement and penetration
As well as a return to the high pressing football of the early part of the season Liverpool also rediscovered their attacking momentum that had been missing for the entirety of January.
When Liverpool were at the peak of their form this season they were a storm of constant movement in the attacking phase, constantly moving in and out of space to create overloads and underloads that left their opponents’ defensive structure in pieces as they cut through time and time again.
Here Liverpool show that they are willing to play the direct pass more often instead of always looking to play through the thirds.
For many of these articles I have highlighted the fact that Coutinho tends to play from the left but move in to central areas to effect the play. Here though that movement is reversed and Coutinho moves from a central area out towards the left hand side of the pitch. As he does so he drags the Spurs player out with him emptying space that Wijnaldum is able to access with a simple vertical run.
Contribution in the attacking phase is the one area of the game that the Dutch midfielder should look to improve on as the season draws to a close but this was a positive sign.
In this example we again see the fluidity of the movement that Liverpool are capable of in the final third. With Mane back, Firmino looks a more complete player and as the Senegalese attacker moves in to a central position from the right hand side of the pitch the Brazilian in turn drifts in to space on the far side of the pitch.
As the ball is progressed down the right side of the pitch the Spurs defensive structure is pulled over to that side of the field leaving Firmino in even more space to attack.
Maybe Sadio Mane was the difference?
The Senegalese attacker has returned from African Cup of Nations duty to take his place in the first team back.
For the last few weeks I have been pushing the opinion that the loss of Mane was not in fact the catalyst behind the poor form for Liverpool. Turns out I may have actually been wrong. Two goals in quick succession in this match were enough to overcome Spurs.
This was the build up to the first Liverpool goal as Mane provides Liverpool with exactly what they have missed in January. His pace moving from the right in to the central areas of the field allows Mane to give the defenders the advantage before blowing past them and remaining onside to take the through pass and run through on goal.
This example of pure pace is something that can change the face of any game.
Is this the beginning of a resurgence in form from Liverpool or is it a one off?
It is hard to answer that question after one match but at the same time the signs are positive. The return of the attacking fluidity in the final third is perhaps the key for Liverpool as they look to find form again.
A 2-0 victory may not be the result that turns out the season but it is at least a start.