Welcome to Tactics Tuesday! Your regular host Brett Rainbow is still curled up in a fetal position after Sunday's battering, so I'll be filling in for today. I hope you'll forgive my lack of gif wizardry, but let's be honest, nobody wants to relive this debacle in a series of never-ending 10 second loops.
Both sides lined up with back-up right-footed right backs playing out of position on the left flank. AVB attempted to protect Kyle Naughton with a defensively sound winger in Nacer Chadli. Brendan Rodgers went full YOLO and deployed Philippe Coutinho in front of Jon Flanagan as usual, despite Coutinho's natural inclinations to drift significantly inside and leave Flanagan to his own devices.
This felt like a microcosm of each manager's approach to the game. Rodgers followed the "a good offense is the best defense" maxim and put the onus on his explosive attack to keep Spurs from generating anything of their own. AVB, on the other hand, took a more reactive approach to setting out his side. Given the injuries to the back line and the fact that AVB never seemed to figure out his best options on the left wing, the decision isn't unexpected or indefensible, but it is telling.
The second feature of the left back situation is how each manager treated the other's vulnerable side in attack. Rodgers pinpointed Naughton straight away as a weak link and Liverpool hammered that flank until it gave way and produced the first goal.
This is a map of Liverpool's passing up until the first goal. You can see the vast majority of their early attacks hit us down our left. And if you recall, that first goal finally came when Liverpool overloaded the left side. Suarez looked to play Jordan Henderson behind the defense through a gap between Dawson and Naughton, and nobody from the left side of the pitch tracked Suarez's run into the box.
So how did Spurs attack treat Liverpool's inexperienced and vulnerable left back? By leaving him completely alone.
Here's a map of our passing after Liverpool's first goal (the less said about our offense for the first 17 minutes of the game the better). As you can see, instead of targeting Liverpool's vulnerable left side as they did to us, we force most our attacks down their right, where it's protected by England international right back Glen Johnson and a speedy touchline hugging winger.
Why? It's hard to justify this decision from a tactical perspective. Spurs' right side contains the familiar pairing of Walker and Lennon who play very effectively in tandem, and both of whom have lightning pace. With Coutinho drifting far inside the touchline, it seemed like a no-brainer to punish the wrong-footed 20 year old covering the entire flank on his own. Unfortunately, Spurs never attempted to do so.
Now, you may think that part of this isn't down to AVB's tactics, but reactive to Liverpool pressing down the same flank. We had the ball on our left, so naturally we tried to attack that way. But actually, after the first goal, Naughton grew into the game and kept Sterling relatively quiet (and I would argue subbing him off for Fryers, though he had a good game, was a waste of a substitution having already wasted one replacing the injured Sandro. but it's easy to say that in the hindsight of Paulinho's red card).
In light of Naughton's improvement, Liverpool shifted their attacks to the other vulnerable part of our defense.
Capoue Is Not A Centerback
Now I don't have a gif of this, so you'll just have to take my word for it. In the second minute of the match, a speculative ball comes over the top aimed at Coutinho. Spurs' defenders are at the top our 18 yard box, and Coutinho's positioning means he's never going to get to the ball. Dawson calmly let's it go over him to run to Lloris. Capoue has no idea what's going on however, and he runs over behind Dawson and in front of Lloris to head it clear. The ball goes straight back into danger. Suarez picks up the loose ball and dishes it to the now-unmarked Coutinho who gets a shot away inside the box. Spurs avoid conceding only because the Coutinho scuffs the shot straight into Lloris' arms.
Henderson has broken from midfield into space through the right side of our defense. That's Capoue sliding in. From the wrong side of the pitch. What's he doing there? Who knows!
Spurs Surrenders the Midfield Battle
The Rest of the Game Didn't Even Matter
- Murat Yakin has talked to Tottenham Hotspur
- Tottenham Hostpur managerial shortlist: Evaluating the candidates
- Should AVB have been given the rest of the season over an interim boss?
- The stats behind the sacking: Spurs shot conversion, points and through balls
- Waving goodbye to Andre Villas-Boas, who was never the best man for the job