Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool travelled to ‘cursed’ Wembley on Sunday, where they were the recipients of a 4-1 drubbing from a stubborn yet scintillating Tottenham Hotspur side.
Mauricio Pochettino set his team up in a 3-5-1-1 formation, with Harry Kane feeding off Heung Min Son, and Trippier and Aurier providing the width from wing back positions. Surprisingly, Harry Winks was given the nod over Eric Dier in defensive midfield, and he grasped the opportunity with both hands.Embed from Getty Images
Poch’s plan was extremely simple but incredibly well carried out by his side. They invited Liverpool to attack, with the wing backs dropping back to create a five man back line, daring the team from Merseyside to break them down.
Alli, Winks and Eriksen were very quick to pounce on the slightest loose pass from a man in a red shirt, as Liverpool passed from left to right, trying to find a fissure they could exploit. But it didn’t appear.
Instead, the duo of Son and Kane wreaked havoc on the counter, with the Liverpool midfield too slow to get back to defend. Spurs got the lead on the counter, and proceeded to use that style of play to orchestrate daylight between themselves and their visitors over the course of the 90 minutes.
Liverpool were too easily undone, and here I will make an attempt to illustrate why.
A lot of the fingers will be pointed at Dejan Lovren, and rightfully so for the second Tottenham goal. Likewise Simon Mignolet will be made the scapegoat for his poor judgement gifting Kane the opener, as well as his improper positioning for Kane’s 2nd. However, another man deserves a significant portion of the blame, and he was the one watching from the touchline. Jurgen Klopp is to be blamed here.
Klopp’s failure dates back to the transfer window. While everyone applauded Liverpool for their quickness in signing Mo Salah and their retention of Coutinho (Rightfully so), the defensive aspect of the team was largely side-lined yet again.
Andy Robertson arrived from Hull and put in a stellar performance against Crystal Palace, to play only 90 more minutes in the PL. Virgil Van Dijk was pursued enthusiastically, a little too enthusiastically, as Southampton filed a complaint against the Merseyside club. But with that complaint ended Liverpool’s search for a CB, and commenced their problems.
Liverpool’s set up this season has been quite, for lack of a better word, transparent. It has been relatively easy to see through. And once a mind with the tactical prowess of the likes of Pochettino, Guardiola, Conte etc. sees through something, it generally is able to figure a way through it. Guardiola’s City, aided without a doubt by the red card to Mane, bulldozed right through Liverpool, and Tottenham here showed a way to manoeuvre around them, rather than through them.
Liverpool under Klopp are essentially playing one way and one way only. In a league as competitive as this one, you cannot do without tweaking your side every week to exploit the day’s opposition. Liverpool’s set up and build up is becoming easier to perceive and hence, more comfortable to shut down.
Burnley did what they do best, they put 11 behind the ball and dared Liverpool to break them down. Spurs did the same with 8 behind the ball. United followed Burnley’s lead and came away with a draw in absence of a couple of first team players. Liverpool’s attack, few would argue against, is irresistible on their day. And the reason it is so is due to the quickness they get up the pitch on the change of play. One quick turn and they can leave the entire defence for dead. Actually giving them the ball deprives them of their most useful faculty.
Here is when the prowess of the likes of Fabregas, David Silva and Mesut Ozil comes into full focus. They can’t blast a shot in from 30 yards out like Coutinho can, but they can tell when your defender is half a yard away from his ideal position, and they can make you pay for it. Liverpool do not have a person like this. True, when you have the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Mane, you don’t need the person who threads the eye of the needle with the pass, but as teams sitting deep against Liverpool have brought to light, you do. Perhaps Naby Keita next season could tick this checkbox.
Likewise, set piece defending haunted Liverpool today. Liverpool’s defenders formed a straight line to repel Eriksen’s ball in, which left no one to take care of the second ball, which in this was a shot into the bottom corner off Alli’s boot. Matip headed back out, but with four players on the same wavelength as him, Alli had ample time to weigh up a sweet half volley with no one within two metres of him. Mignolet’s erratic positioning continues to undermine the integrity of the already vulnerable Liverpool defence. On another Spurs set piece, he got himself lost in an area where Harry Kane is always found. Firmino’s valiant goal line clearance came to nothing, as Kane slotted into the unguarded net.
It’s the tugging at the same strings that is undoing Liverpool now and again. It’s high time Jurgen Klopp recognises this and takes measures to rectify it, for if he doesn’t, the blueprint to systematically neutralise his Liverpool side has been laid out in the open by more managers than one.
Their claim to fame last season was the wins and draws they ground out against opposition making up the top six. But this season, their set up has been put into the ground by the same top six. Inevitably, a change is perhaps required if Liverpool are to reach the heights that FSG and Liverpool’s fan-base believe they are capable of climbing to.
Written by Ayush Verma.