13 February 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Previous Match Infographics: Hull (a), Chelsea (h), Swansea (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

These are the matches where Liverpool perform.

Everyone's seen and written about Liverpool's top-six record under Klopp, both this season and last. Once again, one of these matches saw fewer than 500 attempted Liverpool passes, fewer than 400 completed Liverpool passes, less than 56% Liverpool possession. Liverpool have now won five and drawn two when that happens. 4-3 Arsenal, 1-1 Tottenham, 2-1 Chelsea, 4-2 Palace, 1-0 City, 1-1 United, and 2-0 Tottenham.

They're either open, back-and-forth games (Arsenal on opening day, but I also see you, Palace outlier) or games where Liverpool score early and can actually focus on defending – and they're often good at defending when actually focused on defending.

Credit to Tottenham for the confidence to play their style no matter Liverpool's form against a different sort of set-up lately, even sticking with the back four they've recently used because of injuries rather than a more smothering back three which has been deployed in most matches against better sides.

It was still a bad idea.

You should not try to play out from the back against this Liverpool. You should not allow this Liverpool front five to press you, especially in the middle third of the pitch. And you should not play an insanely compact high-line defense against this Liverpool.

All three of those facets heavily featured in Liverpool's goals. Liverpool win possession in the middle third. Liverpool sprint at and behind your defense. And Liverpool score. Most notably, that high line was straight suicide against Sadio Mané.

Poor Ben Davies. Another view:

A Liverpool attacker hasn't seen that much space to run into since Hillary Clinton seemed certain to be the next US President.

And that set the tone. We could have gotten similar earlier, with last-ditch defending from Alderweireld and Walker preventing Liverpool from getting in, and we did get similar less than two minutes later.

Admittedly, Liverpool are very much helped by Dier's mis-control and error on the ball. But as Liverpool can attest, one bad moment of defending and conceding often leads to more mistakes and more goals. As it did here. As it almost did four minutes later thanks to Kyle Walker's nonsense cross-field ball in his own half, with Mane only denied by Lloris' inner-thigh save. As it almost did two minutes after that, Tottenham thrice failing to fully clear a corner before Lloris again denied Mané.

There's a reason most sides stopped playing like this against Liverpool around three months ago.

But, yes, while Liverpool are often better against the best sides in the league and Liverpool are better against this sort of set-up, this was no routine Against-Top-Six performance. This was no routine Liverpool v Tottenham performance.

These are the four league matches where Klopp's Liverpool has faced Pochettino's Tottenham, an updated version of a chart posted the last time these two sides met. A match where Liverpool played better than they had in previous against Spurs. A narrow match, but one that Liverpool probably should have won had Liverpool finished their first-half chances.

This, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as close. Liverpool got their very-much-needed early goals – "goals" not "goal" – could and should have scored more if not for Lloris, and only had one moment of fright where Mignolet outstandingly denied Son in the 26th minute. From there, Tottenham never ever ever looked like scoring, held to just two shots for the final 55 minutes of the match: an Alderweireld set play header immediately blocked and an Alderweireld 35-yard-blast that was nowhere near the target, in the 69th and 92nd minutes respectively. Despite the deficit, despite an awful lot more Tottenham possession.

Again, when compact, when set, when focused on protecting a lead rather than adding to it, Liverpool's defense can be very good. In complete contrast to when it's very much not as Liverpool are chasing a goal or a deficit.

This was the first time all season that Tottenham have been both held scoreless and their opponents scored more than once. And they'd only been held scoreless in five of 35 matches in all competitions: 0-0, 0-1 Leverkusen in the Champions League; 0-0 Bournemouth (a); 0-1 United (a); 0-0 Sunderland (a).


Finally, it seems worth a mention that Harry Kane again failed to take a shot or create a chance. As also happened when these sides met at Tottenham in August. The only other match where that's happened was Tottenham's 2-0 win over Chelsea last month. Kane had averaged 4.0 shots and 2.33 key passes per games, with two goals and one assist, in his three previous against Liverpool.

But again, these aren't necessarily the matches where we need to see Liverpool do Liverpool. It's always welcomed, and further proof that Liverpool are on the right track and have good ideas and good players. But these still aren't the droids we're looking for.

*gulps, tugs collar*

I will specifically point to the opposition's shot accuracy and clear-cut chance totals. And also note that four matches which came much earlier in the season – 4-1 Leicester, 4-2 Palace, 5-1 Hull, 6-1 Watford – make Liverpool's "bottom 10" numbers look an awful lot better than they've been lately.

Seven of Liverpool's final 13 games are against bottom ten sides – five at home, two away – with only three left against the strongest top-seven: Arsenal (h), City (a), Everton (h).

If Liverpool are to succeed in their aims this season, it'll be against those sides. And it starts in Liverpool's next match.

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