After a first-half in which Jurgen Klopp’s side out-pressed Tottenham, a familiar lack of control saw Liverpool squander their half-time lead.
Poch gets out-pressed
With the top sides becoming ever more vigilant against the counter-attack, in the wake of Leicester City’s improbable 2015/16 title triumph, contests like this one – in which both teams operate a high press – are likely to be rare.
Michel Vorm’s 6th-minute save from Phillipe Coutinho, after Jordan Henderson harried Christian Eriksen off the ball in the Spurs half, represented early evidence that Liverpool held the upper hand in the battle to pin back the opposition.
Vorm’s sweeper-keeper attributes were vital throughout the first-half, as the Dutch goalkeeper was twice called upon to rush off his line and foil Sadio Mané. The frequency with which their visitors dispossessed them in midfield endangered Tottenham’s high defensive line regularly, but Vorm proved himself to be the perfect failsafe for a faulty offside-trap.
Early tactical change
Tottenham’s inability to bypass the Liverpool press saw Mauricio Pochettino prevail upon a 28th-minute injury to Kyle Walker to make a much-needed tactical change.
Having started all three Premier League games with the defensive duo of Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier in midfield, the Argentinian responded to Walker’s knock by asking the latter to fill the right-back slot in his stead. Number ten, Dele Alli, was tasked with partnering Wanyama and improving his side’s propensity to work the ball from back-to-front.
Within two minutes of dropping deeper, Alli played a long pass into the channel to initiate a dangerous counter-attack. The 20-year-old also managed to skip away from the pressing efforts of Mané on the edge of his own box, earning the Senegalese winger a yellow card for his late challenge.
While Tottenham certainly improved after their manager’s tactical tweak, Vincent Janssen’s introduction up top carried the knock-on effect of again miring Harry Kane in a number ten role to which he looks ill-suited.
Kane, who attempted no shots throughout the course of the game, is unlikely to start racking up his customary prolific Premier League tally if he continues to be employed in a playmaker capacity. An underhit second-half pass to Dier, who looked destined to convert an unmarked rampage into the Liverpool area into a goal, summed up the England striker’s afternoon.
Liverpool lose control
That same freedom afforded to Dier was a crucial factor in Tottenham’s 72nd-minute equaliser, as Roberto Firmino unwisely decided to pass his marker on to midfielder-by-trade James Milner. Milner, who appears an inadequate replacement at left-back for the error-prone Alberto Moreno, was outfoxed by Toby Alderweireld’s simple long ball, allowing Dier to reach the byline and find Danny Rose at the back post.
As if to underline the indiscipline of Klopp’s side, Rose had been freed to convert that chance by a sleeping Mané, who was extremely fortunate to still be on the pitch after a handful of rash challenges.
Indeed, four of Liverpool’s five cautions were wholly unnecessary, including Henderson’s rebuke for dissent, and the efforts of Coutinho and Joel Matip to prevent the timely execution of Tottenham set-pieces.
Although to be fair to the Brazilian and his debuting team-mate, defending set-pieces were again a huge problem for Klopp’s side; Alderweireld spurned two glorious free headers, from corner-kicks, in the second-half.
Liverpool were excellent in the first-half and their half-time lead was completely justified by an impressive high-press and some excellent combination play between the front three. Control is paramount in the conversion of such leads to three points however, and a second-half in which his side’s defensive organisation and discipline failed him suggests that the chaotic Klopp is very far from engendering it.