After the international break, Liverpool had to face their first major test when they traveled to London. An encounter against Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs which last year left a bad taste in Liverpool’s fans mouth after a humiliating 4–1 loss, and a last minute penalty at Anfield to deny Liverpool a win which in theory would have seen the Reds finish in 3rd place rather than 4th.
Spurs on the other hand want to overcome the points dropped at Vicarage road before the international break, and prepare for their trip to the San Siro in midweek.
With Dele Alli and Lloris injured there were no surprises in Spurs’ starting eleven as they opted for a 4–3–1–2 rather than 3–1–4–2, the two formations that Pochettino altered between this season. Liverpool swapped in Keita for Henderson to return the to the lineup that started the first three games. Positioning Dier on the right side of the diamond — apart from it being his preferred side — was to neutralize Liverpool’s more dangerous side of the field through which they use Robertson to provide more width. In the early minutes it was the other side which proved more threatening as Milner found Firmino twice, but an offside decision and an Alderweireld interception denied the Brazilian from opening the score. In fear of further threat down the right side, Dier switched with Winks although for a couple of minutes until the threat declined.
Winks role was to provide an additional passing option for Spurs’ defence by dropping next to Dembele in the build up process, circulating the ball until a good passing option is found that doesn’t necessarily position the Spurs’ player in the center of the press. The idea was to avoid the center of midfield to deny Firmino and the three midfielders the ability to recover the ball, to achieve this Spurs searched for long balls in behind Liverpool defenders, and progression through the right side where Eriksen moved regularly, either searching for space behind Robertson or to set up Trippier’s runs.
The plan was solid, but Liverpool knew how to react. Long balls into the channels or behind the defenders were met by Van Dijk and Gomez, the full backs stayed in their positions and didn’t advance as they normally do, and the midfield trio dropped to support the full backs to deny Spurs any chance to create from the flanks. Spurs’ ideas were in tatters, and to make things worse it was their sloppiness in build up rather than Liverpool’s creativity or ability to press that provided Liverpool their chances as Mane and Salah were close to open the scoring only for their poor finishing to fail them. The sloppiness continued and a poor pass from Alderweireld resulted eventually in a corner which Wijnaldum headed in.
In the second half Pochettino changed things around, switching to a 4–3–3/3–4–3 with Dier dropping into a right center back position when Spurs have the ball. The switch provided more width from the full backs, and space on the left hand side for Lucas Moura to exploit as Alexander-Arnold had to occupy Rose, the Brazilian found space behind the right back, and could have equalized but his shot struck the post. The threat from the left hand side was starting to appear, but a good play down the left wing for Liverpool doubled their lead after a howler from Vorm, who failed to catch the ball while on the ground.
Irritated by the scoreline, Pochettino had to change things and brought on Son for Dembele, switching to a 4–2–3–1. The substitution left Spurs with a weaker midfield, and denied them any overload on the wings as it was now a matter of 2 v 2 with Wijnaldum tracking Eriksen’s runs. Liverpool pounced on the recurring Spurs’ mistakes, and could have easily finished the game if only for their poor finishing and decision making in the final third. Lamela’s introduction meant that Spurs were going all out attack with a 4–2–4, the Argentine gave Spurs an edge but it was too late as he found the net in the dying minutes.
On the day, Liverpool neutralized Spurs from creating significant chances thanks to the positioning and aerial ability of their center backs, in addition to their full backs’ steadiness and support from midfield. It isn’t surprising that Milner and Van Dijk are their stand out performers this season in spite of their star studded line up, it’s the compactness and defensive solidity that is providing Liverpool a new edge.