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As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
Unfortunately, this may no longer be the Tottenham that you lovingly remember from the three previous meetings. Fortunately, Liverpool still earned the same result, but only barely.
That was an incredibly even contest, both in scoreline and statistics. Liverpool twice taking the lead, Tottenham equalizing in 11 and eight minutes respectively. A difference of five attempted passes and nine completed passes. A difference of five attempted attacking third passes and one completed attacking third pass. 16 shots to 14. Eight key passes to nine. Each side completing two of 11 crosses. Liverpool winning 14 aerial duels, Tottenham 16.
Both sides attempted and completed fewer passes than usual. Liverpool have averaged 500 passes per match this season (83.0% accuracy), Tottenham 498 (81.2%). Which isn't entirely out of the ordinary for this fixture, but it's usually just one side that's vastly below its average. I.E. Liverpool monopolizing the ball in last season's two meetings or Liverpool's low pass total due to the counter-attacking strategy in the reverse fixture last August.
But there were also a few differences: a couple of minor, a couple of major.
The minor differences: Tottenham's defensive actions and Liverpool's success with take-ons.
That Tottenham made more tackles and interceptions than Liverpool isn't surprising – Liverpool are often below their opposition in that regard – but, as expected from a Pochettino side, Tottenham put Liverpool under pressure in its own half, and cut out a fair number of final third passes.
Jordon Ibe was the difference in the dribbling statistics, completing six of eight, just three fewer successful dribbles than the entire Tottenham side. And while he didn't get credit for it statistically, it was Ibe's run – taking on two defenders – and pass to Lallana which set up Liverpool's third goal. I'll take this opportunity to remind that was his third start in the Premier League and he's still just 19.
The major differences: what Liverpool did with its shots and Tottenham's defensive errors.
Liverpool put 44% of its shots on-target, seven of 16, the highest percentage since the 4-1 win over Swansea. Tottenham put five of their 14 shots on goal, 35.7%.
Eight of Liverpool's 16 shots came in the Danger Zone (six-yard box + center of the 18-yard box). That's the second highest proportion this season, behind the away match against Villa, where eight of Liverpool's 12 shots (and both goals) came in the Danger Zone. Prior to yesterday's match, 36.1% of all Liverpool shots in the league came in that area. It's also where 29 of Liverpool's 36 league goals (including own goals and penalties) came from. Danger Zone shots are really, really important. Meanwhile, only three of Tottenham's 14 shots came in that area, including both goals.
And Liverpool scored three goals, for the first time since beating Swansea 4-1 on December 29th. Liverpool have only done that three times in the league this season: yesterday, against Swansea, and at QPR. At this point last season, they'd scored three or more in 12 of 25 matches.
Tottenham made three Opta-defined errors yesterday: Bentaleb and Mason's back passes in the 8th and 19th minutes, which Liverpool were unable to take advantage of, and Dier failing to stop Lallana's cross for Balotelli's goal. And that doesn't even count Rose's errant tackle for the penalty. Meanwhile, Liverpool committed none. Not counting penalties for Guðjohnsen and Hazard in cup competition, Liverpool's last Opta-defined defensive error came against AFC Wimbledon, on January 5th. Which was 10 matches ago. After Liverpool's 1-3 loss at Palace, the 12th match of the season, Liverpool had committed 17 defensive errors, averaging nearly 1.5 per match. Liverpool have committed just four defensive errors in the 13 league matches, none since the 4-1 win over Swansea.
Liverpool's voodoo over Tottenham notwithstanding, that was almost certainly Liverpool's most impressive win of the season. It's probably Liverpool's first win over a first-class side this season; you can't call the Tottenham which Liverpool beat an August "first-class" in any sense of the phrase. This is a Tottenham side in excellent form, coming off a win over their closest rivals, and with much more recent experience winning close matches at the death.
Liverpool got crucial contributions from unexpected sources: the aforementioned Ibe, Balotelli's game-winning goal (that's the exact run he needs to be making more often), an absolutely brilliant save from Mignolet with the match at 2-1, Markovic in more of an advanced position (playing more like a second striker than Coutinho, Lallana, or Gerrard have in the position and scoring the opener), Lovren off the bench to allow Can to shift into midfield.
Both of Liverpool's goals conceded were regrettable: the first because of the ease Lamela and Eriksen passed around Henderson and Gerrard followed up by Sakho's slip, the second because of Dowd giving a free kick that shouldn't have been a free kick and the linesman failing to flag Kane offside. But neither makes me worry about regression to the defensive woes from earlier this season; it's still seems a much improved and even (*deep breaths*) very good defensive unit. Even bringing Lovren on couldn't help Tottenham find the needed third.
But there's still a lot of room for improvement: in Liverpool's finishing (especially the rusty Sturridge), in attacking third cohesion, in midfield organization without Lucas, and, yes, in defense. And Liverpool will need to continue improving, with two matches a week for the next three weeks (at the least), including massive contests against Besiktas, (a rested) Southampton, and Manchester City.