In a season of turbulence at Tottenham Hotspur the nadir came three months back as a Luis Suarez-inspired Liverpool wiped the floor with them 5-0 at White Hart Lane. The resulting turmoil saw Andre Villas-Boas given the boot.
Sunday’s trip to Anfield will give Tim Sherwood and his players the chance to avenge the humiliating defeat and show that, despite doing it the hard way, they have learned their lesson.
The December encounter which saw AVB get the sack was an absolute annihilation Luis Suarez opened the scoring in the first-half before Jordan Henderson volleyed in a second just minutes before the break. The game was effectively over, with Liverpool dominating every area of the field, by the time Paulinho was shown a red card for a high foot. Liverpool then twisted the knife as Jon Flanagan and Suarez added two more before Raheem Sterling put the final nail in AVB’s coffin.
AVB had shown a preference for having a three-man midfield, based around the power of Paulinho, Moussa Dembele and Sandro. Even against the weaker sides he had shown a reluctance to give creative players, such as Christian Eriksen, a central berth. Looking at the line-ups, it was unfeasible to believe that Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen would dominate Spurs. But dominate Spurs they did.
Liverpool’s midfield trio, along with Philippe Coutinho and Sterling, were relentless in their pressing. Any time a Spurs player put their head down, thus closing off their field of vision, they pounced, harrying them out of possession or into a sloppy pass. Sterling and Allen targeted Kyle Naughton at left-back for particular treatment, and he had an absolute nightmare. Spurs conceded possession far too often, with their midfield threesome losing the ball 34 times throughout the game. They simply never gave themselves a chance
Liverpool’s midfield pressed with tenacity, winning 17 of 29 ground duels, as opposed to Spurs’ 11 of 30. So despite the physicality in Spurs’ midfield, they were absolutely dominated on the ground by Liverpool’s organised pressing. Little Joe Allen (all 5 ft. 6 of him) won an incredible seven of eight tackles.
It may sound fairly elementary but what Tim Sherwood really needs to work into his players in the build up to the Liverpool game is to be more comfortable on the ball. Too regularly in the last game Spurs’ players were receiving the ball awkwardly. Passes weren’t sharp and precise, ball control was off and they were receiving the ball facing their own goal. Liverpool capitalised on their sloppiness and humiliated them in front of their own fans.
Recent poor results against Chelsea and Benfica have boiled down to horrendously sloppy defending or individual errors. After Sherwood’s public dressing down of his players after their 4-0 defeat to Chelsea they rallied to put in a spirited, yet ultimately impotent and fruitless performance against Arsenal.
Sherwood opted to play a high line against the Gunners and pressurise the midfield with a constant collective midfield effort. They managed to control possession and disrupt Arsenal’s midfield, but they succumbed to an early counter-attack which gave Arsenal the one goal they needed. The best chances in the game fell to Arsenal as they breached Tottenham’s defensive line. If it wasn’t for Arsenal’s lack of pace and erratic finishing, the scoreline could have ended worse for Spurs. If they choose to defend in a similar fashion against Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, they will pay the penalty.
In Spurs’ recent 3-2 victory over Southampton they fell 2-0 behind, once more down to individual errors from Naughton. Christian Eriksen, entrusted in recent weeks with a more central role, was in inspired form, scoring two and assisting one as he led the comeback. His interchanging with Nacer Chadli kept Southampton guessing all afternoon. Both Chadli and Eriksen’s qualities have become more apparent in Spurs’ last couple of games and any penetration success they’ll have going forwards against Liverpool will be down to these two.
It will be absolutely vital for Spurs to utilise their strengths whilst avoiding the temptation to defend too high up at Anfield on Sunday. Too regularly, under both Villas-Boas and Sherwood, the team has lacked the attacking spark needed to cut teams open. Eriksen provides exactly that. Individual errors must be cut out too. Liverpool are too capable at capitalising on both individual and tactical mistakes. The showdown promises to be an interesting one, and Spurs will be hoping they’re better prepared this time for what Liverpool will throw at them.