The last Spurs manager who suffered such a demoralising defeat to Liverpool, didn’t last another 24 hours. With the season’s finale only six matches away, Tottenham will surely wait to relieve the present incumbent of his duties; with Levy you’re never quite sure.
This thrashing was half expected – prior to the game fans were voicing their concerns about how our fragile defence would cope with the most potent attack in the Premier League. Does the forewarning make it easier to take? In a word, no.
The team news was a surprise of sorts. There was no Sandro, in a game where an experienced holding player was surely a necessity. Maybe he was still feeling the effects of his recent injury? Instead, Bentaleb played in that role. Previously, the young Frenchman has looked promising, tidying things up and moving the ball between defence and midfield. The one game where he looked out of his depth, was the debacle at home to Manchester City. Here was a similar test, and Sherwood should have played the more defensively minded, disciplined and experienced Brazilian.
Apart from that, the selection kind of made sense. Sigurdsson as a withdrawn, central midfield player looked odd, but his energetic pressing had been instrumental the previous week. We had played well in the second half against Southampton, and here we were facing a similar side, so why not field the same eleven? Similar in style yes, but in ability Liverpool are light years ahead.
Brendan Rodgers chose a very attacking line up. Normally he picks either the guile and technical ability of Philipe Coutinho or the pace and trickery of Raheem Sterling. Here he played both, perhaps sensing we were there for the taking. Gone was the recent diamond in midfield, replaced by a 4-3-3.
In my match preview, I pointed out the problems we have had defending our left hand side. I suggested playing a specialist winger on the left of midfield, rather than the more centrally minded Eriksen, in order to help cover the fullback. This isn’t rocket science, many others said the same thing as me, but Sherwood wasn’t listening.
Time and again Liverpool exploited this weakness, including for the first goal. Looking at the statistics, Liverpool attacked on their right (our left) 53% of the time, as opposed to 17% through the centre and 30% down the left. They were targeting Rose. Sterling and Johnson had a field day, with Sterling only just pipped to the man of the match award by the excellent Luis Suarez.
Two persistent issues of late, have been our slow starts and the number of individual defensive mistakes we make. The first goal was a perfect example of both these flaws. The game had barely begun when Raheem Sterling beat the offside trap on our left side, Danny Rose playing him on. Spurs’ left back didn’t close him down, affording him the time and space to pick his pass. Eriksen failed to track the run of Glen Johnson who sent a dangerous ball across the six yard box. Kaboul, who was rushing back towards goal, got his feet caught up and bundled the ball home for an own goal.
Sherwood had suggested in an interview prior to the match, that the extra pressure on Liverpool due to their unexpected title challenge, would play in our favour. With this in mind, keeping things tight early on was key. If there were any pre-match nerves in the home dressing room, they would have been quickly dispelled.
Dawson, Vertonghen, Walker, Sandro, Rose, Naughton and now Kaboul have all made costly individual mistakes in recent games. Last weekend Kyle Naughton’s howlers left us two down early on against Southampton. On that occasion we were lucky that the opposition committed errors of their own to let us back into the game. Liverpool were never likely to be as charitable.
To make one mistake is unfortunate, to commit so many looks like carelessness. It reminds me a bit of the final games of the Ramos era. Normally you would chalk an individual error down to bad luck but the sheer number of errors, spread across several games and made by so many different players, would suggest a systematic problem. I don’t know whether it’s coaching, focus, motivation or tactics but players are ending up in positions where they feel uncomfortable, and with doubt in their minds.
Our propensity to start slowly is just as infuriating. We haven’t scored a single goal in the first 15 minutes of a league game. In fact we are the only Premier League team who hasn’t, yet in that same time period we’ve managed to concede seven. Is this a lack of preparation pre-match, or a lack of motivation and focus when the players leave the dressing room?
So we found ourselves chasing the game yet again, after just two minutes. We were actually seeing a reasonable amount of the ball, but not getting very far. Whereas Liverpool looked dangerous on every attack. The next setback came with Vertonghen limping out in the 24th minute, echoing Sandro’s injury in the disastrous encounter at White Hart Lane.
Michael Dawson replaced the Belgian, his first appearance since injuring himself in the thrashing at Stamford Bridge. His first action was to flick a dreadful pass to Kaboul, with Luis Suarez nipping at his heels. To be fair, he had just come on, but why pass the ball backwards and in the direction of the most dangerous player in the Premier League? Suarez won a tussle with Kaboul and finished low past Lloris. Just 25 minutes gone and we were two goals down, beating our record from last weekend. The game looked over.
The irritating thing was that, on the few occasions we had possession near the home team’s goal, their defence looked vulnerable. Our best chance came when Eriksen found himself with the ball on the Liverpool penalty spot, but his shot was blocked.
Half time came, could Sherwood make a difference and spark another unlikely comeback? I was screaming at him to make changes – bring on a more imposing central midfielder, swap Chadli and Eriksen – but he did neither.
The third goal highlighted our lack of presence in midfield. Flanagan turned Lennon deep in his own half, then ran straight through the centre of the pitch without a Tottenham player getting near him. He passed to Countinho, who drove the ball into the bottom corner. Bentaleb had been jogging back, the Liverpool attack completely passing him by.
Sherwood finally made a change. Demebele replaced Bentaleb to provide more power in midfield and Townsend replaced the ineffectual Lennon. I have always had a soft spot for the diminutive winger, but apart from a couple of games this season – notably against Manchester United – he has been pretty dire. On current form, I don’t think he merits a place in the starting eleven. The changes made sense, but it was too little too late. Henderson rounding off the humiliation with the fourth goal, direct from a free kick.
This was easily as bad as the 5-0 defeat at home. At least there we had the mitigating factors of a patched up defence (Capoue played centre back), Sandro limping off after 30 minutes and Paulinho’s red card. At Anfield, the players had the same expressions on their faces as in the game at White Hart Lane; a look of resignation not of fight. The score could have been worse as a mixture of Hugo Lloris and the woodwork kept Liverpool out, after further errors by Kaboul and Rose.
Spurs have now play eight games against the current top four. We have only managed to take 1 point from 24, with an aggregate score of 27 – 2. In fact out of the 44 goals we’ve conceded, 20% have come against Liverpool and 25% against Manchester City. A damning indictment of our Champions League pretensions.
Fortunately, our six remaining fixtures are against teams in the bottom half of the table. All that’s left is to hope that Everton overtake Arsenal and leave our rivals without Champions League football too. Schadenfreude, the best we can expect from this most frustrating of seasons.
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