To begin with, it was a thoroughly entertaining game filled with a high-tiempo, lots of energy, and consistent pressuring exhibited by both teams. Going into the game there was a lot of hype because we are now at the mark in the season right before the home stretch and this game had big Champions Legaue implications. Both Tottenham and Liverpool are final four contenders and also going into the game both teams were in the best form out of the whole EPL. A win here would not only help catapult a team into a strong finish to the season, but it give them a slight lead over their direct competitors for that all important forth league spot. Not to mention the incredible form that Harry Kane was in and the return of Daniel Sturridge only added more buzz to the fixture!
Tottenham- 4-2-3-1 Liverpool- 4-4-2 (3-5-2 with Alberto pushed on)
Walker Vertonghen Dier Rose Emre Skrtel Sakho
Mason Gerrard Alberto
Dembele Ibe Coutinho
Kane Markovich Sturridge
Going into the game, it would be fair to question Sturridge's match sharpness but personally I thought he had a terrific first half and continued to play well into the second as well. He got off two very good chances in the first twelve minutes and was very lively by stretching the defense. Yes, he didn’t score and Robbie Earl made the point that he is still rusty in front of net, but I thought Sturridge showed he was ‘sharp’ in the sense that he is a 'gamer'. He always proves to be up for a game and always looks to use his pace to his advantage. He shows up to every game, he is reliable and consistent, he is competitive, and creates constant problems for defenders. What I think though that Sturridge does terrifically well (and doesn’t get enough credit for) is his ability to be two types of players. He can actually be a very good hold-up player and retain possession for Liverpool with his back to goal. If you watch his game, he actually rarely loses possession with his back to goal or draws a foul for his team. This is credit to his crafty style and good feet. The first goal Liverpool scored in the '14 minute was actually very direct and un-Rodgers like. Mignolet punts it down field and Sturridge collects it and is able to then allow Markovich to pick up the ball underneath him and drive at goal. From a Tottenham standpoint, I would have liked to see Dier not allow Markovich to dribble so far and to instead close him down. The shot came off relatively uncontested. However, (going back) Sturridge can also be a very good over-the-top option or option for route 1 football. He can play off the shoulder of the last defender and try to be found in space behind the last defender. This is credit to his pace and intelligence. He prayed on Mason and Bentaleb's poor back passes in the first half.
What was interesting to notice was how Liverpool attacked down the left flank. Countinho operated slightly inside in order to create space on the left of him for Alberto to push on into. Klinsmann refers to this as a ‘half’, so Countinho here was a half winger. Alberto does a tremendous job getting forward and because of this adventurous option, it allows Coutinho to play often in his preferred #10 role behind the forwards. Then down the right flank, Jordan Ibe had himself a quality game! It is fair to say that after the Everton game and now this one that is starting to emerge within this team. He had the better of Danny Rose all game long and along with Sturridge, he was their best attacking option. His pacey dribbling and willingness to pull the trigger added an attacking option that they missed without having Sterling.
It should be said that Tottenham did a great job of responding throughout the game and especially after that opening Liverpool goal. Obviously Kane will get credit for the finish, but that goal is the reason why Pottechino bought Lamela. His movement off the ball allowed for a lovely give and go with Eriksen and then played a superb reverse ball into Kane who had an easy finish. For much of the first half, Tottenham dominated the central of the field and had good possession in the Liverpool half through Dembele and Bentaleb. Mason provided the simple option. However, the star men in the first half were undoubtedly Sturridge and Ibe.
The second half really picked up where the first half left off and that was with a lot of pace and energy. Both teams were more than willing to push on and go for it which made for good entertainment. I thought though Lamela was far less effective in the second and Eriksen looked lost at times in the wing position. He couldn’t find the ball much and was ineffective essentially as the half grew. Sturridge again made things happen and drew a deserved PK. I really liked the resilience of Tottenham who responded to an allowed goal by once again getting on the front foot. Lamela forced a fantastic save from Mignolet minutes after the goal. Then they responded with a '60 minute goal from a Dembele tap-in off an Eriksen free kick. What shocking Liverpool defending though and it hardly got mentioned during the game! I don’t care that Kane was offside; he was standing next to the wall completely unmarked and was allowed to follow the free-kick uncontested. Emre didn’t follow his mark and Alberto didn’t stay with Bentaleb; very shocking.
I believe Liverpool deserved the win and partly due to the substitutions of Rodgers. Both teams were visibly tired in the last 15 minutes of the game from just having played derby matches. So Rodgers takes off Gerrard, saves Sturridge's recovering legs, and takes off Markovich too. The goal in the '82 minute was courtesy of Lallana and Balotelli, who both just came on. Fantastic moves! If you watch that goal again, you will be impressed with how Balotelli loses Dier in just a two yard run. Emre Can did a superb job at CDM when Gerrard went off and maintained that stability in the middle of the field.
All in all, terrific result for Liverpool who can take away a lot from the game. They never surrendered their lead, they finished the game strong, beat a team who is in excellent form, gave Sturridge a 75 minute outing, saw a terrific performance and rising stock of Jordan Ibe, and finally got Balotelli on the score sheet. Tottenham can feel a bit hard done because I thought they won the midfield possession, but nonetheless a fair result.