Originally written on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 3/11/13
Two form teams and two form players for this week’s Match of the Week Review as Liverpool welcomed Tottenham into Anfield on Sunday. Liverpool came into the match having won their past 3 competitive matches by a 12-1 total scoreline, though one of those matches did see them exit the Europa League on aggregate to Zenit. Star striker Luis Suarez entered the match as the leading scorer in the Premier League this season with 22 goals in 28 matches and an incredible 6 in his last 3 in all competitions. Meanwhile, Tottenham had been on their own impressive run coming into the match with 4 wins in their last 5, including an impressive 3-0 defeat of Inter at White Hart Lane on Thursday. In addition, Tottenham have their own star man, Gareth Bale, who has 16 Premier League goals this season and is white-hot in his own right, having scored 10 goals in his last 8 in all competitions coming into Sunday’s showdown. Match of the Week Review: Liverpool vs. Tottenham @ Anfield Interesting tactical decisions for both managers from the first whistle of the match as Tottenham lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1, only with Bale playing in the hole behind Jermaine Defoe, Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left and Moussa Dembele on the right in place of an injured Aaron Lennon. While it’s hard to disagree with playing Bale in a central position where he has more chance to pick up the ball and influence the match, it was strange for Andre Villas-Boas to leave Tottenham without a true winger on either side, given their success in using Lennon and Bale as attacking outlets this season. Yet, you sense this may be just another step in Bale’s progression as a player in the same way that Cristiano Ronaldo moved from the wing to a more central position during his final seasons at Old Trafford. On the other side of the pitch, Brendan Rodgers abandoned his usual 4-3-3 for a conventional 4-4-2 with Daniel Sturridge leading the line and Suarez deployed in behind. Even more surprising were the way Liverpool played the 4-4-2, with the defenders and midfielders not afraid to ping the ball forward rather than their usual slow buildup play from the back. It was quite refreshing to see the likes of Enrique and Gerrard looking to play in Sturridge on occasion and it certainly seemed to have caught Tottenham- playing a very high line to counter Liverpool’s usual short passing game- by surprise. Indeed, the first goal of the match came shortly after Glen Johnson hit a long diagonal ball that Coutinho ran on to. After an intricate passing move along the left sideline, Jose Enrique released Suarez, who wasn’t going to miss from close range. Liverpool dominated long stretches of play in the first half, with Tottenham looking predictably narrow. However, after a better closing 10 minutes of the 1st half, it was Bale who created Tottenham’s equalizer, with a superb whipped cross that Jan Vertonghen headed home. Tottenham were ahead shortly after halftime and again it was Bale providing the delivery, which wasn’t dealt with by Liverpool’s back line, before fortuitously falling to Vertonghen, who took his chance well. All of a sudden, Tottenham were in the ascendancy despite looking 2nd best for much of the match, but the lead lasted less than 15 minutes before a shocking back pass by Kyle Walker led to a Stuart Downing equalizer. The equalizer allowed the Anfield crowd back into the match and it was always going to be Liverpool that were going to push on and take the three points. The Reds capitalized on another horrible Tottenham mistake 8 minutes from time when Defoe miscued an attempted clearance straight into his own penalty area. Suarez was first to the ball and earned a penalty when he was bundled over by Assou-Ekotto. Gerrard dispatched the spot kick to the joy of the crowd. While two of the three Liverpool goals came off Tottenham mistakes, those are the kind of mistakes that teams will force when playing a high pressure system where they get the ball forward quickly and pressure immediately upon losing possession. The occasional break from slow buildup play with a long ball also catches the opposition off guard and puts pressure on opposing defenders, as seen with the first goal Liverpool scored, where Tottenham never really recovered from the cross field ball from Johnson. With the addition of Sturridge, Liverpool now have two quick forwards who are able to run in behind defenses and onto balls played up into space, putting enormous pressure on any backline. While star men Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez each played their part on the afternoon, Brendan Rodgers got his tactics absolutely right today and outwitted his counterpart, who set Tottenham up very narrow to break up the usual short passing, slow build-up play from Liverpool. The occasional long balls and high pressure were enough to force the Tottenham defense into making a few key mistakes which were the difference in the match. Three other observations/thoughts from the match: Is it just me or is it really obvious when a left footer is so one-sided it seems that he is going to great lengths to avoid using his right foot? Bale and Ryan Giggs are two examples that immediately come to mind of players whose right foot seems to be attached to their body only to aid them in running. I’m sure there are many right-foot dominant players who similarly avoid touching the ball with their left foot like it might magnetize the ball towards their own goal, but I notice the lefties far more often. Makes you appreciate players like Nani or Ronaldo who are legitimately two-footed. I can’t tell if Suarez’s constant histrionics on the pitch are rooted in an extreme desire to win, or if he is just a little bit (ok a lot) crazy. Either way, it gets a bit old after a while, especially the ridiculous spats like the one with Scott Parker at the end of the match. Please, win (and lose) with class Luis! The player of the year race in the Premier League is still too close to call. With most sides having only 9 or 10 matches remaining, it seems we’re down to three: Bale, Suarez, and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie. Bale and Suarez both made their claim today, while van Persie has been a little cooler of late, having only scored 1 in his last 5 in the league. Should be a very exciting finish!
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