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Liverpool Opinion: Lady Luck smiled on the Reds in a tactical battle of fine margins

Lady Luck smiled on Liverpool, not for the first time in the season, as Jurgen Klopp’s men edged out Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Anfield on Sunday in what turned out to be a tactical sea-saw battle of fine margins.

The Reds leapfrogged ahead of Man City to the top of the table and put the pressure back on the reigning champions, although Pep Guardiola’s side will be hot favourites when they face Cardiff City at home on Wednesday.

Liverpool needed all three points to keep themselves alive in the title race and Roberto Firmino ensured that the home side had the best possible start to the game, beating Davinson Sanchez to head it home off Andrew Robertson’s perfectly-weighted cross from the left.

Spurs pretty much looked down and out and were clearly second-best to Liverpool’s high-intensity attacking football in the first half but Mauricio Pochettino’s side fought back with a solid response after the interval.

Harry Kane picked out Kieran Trippier down the right with an intelligently worked free-kick, who laid it on for Christian Eriksen to find the run of Lucas Moura inside the box.

The Brazilian restored parity for the Lilywhites and they should have put the game to bed later in the second half, only for Moussa Sissoko to fire his shot high and wide from a one-on-one situation with Alisson.

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That miss proved to be costly as Liverpool managed to pinch a 90th-minute winner, courtesy of an own goal from Toby Alderweireld. While the result dealt a huge blow to Tottenham’s top-four hopes, the Liverpool fans have every reason to remain hopeful of a fairytale conclusion to the season.

As mentioned earlier, the enthralling contest at Anfield turned out to be a tactical battle between Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp. Now, let us get a deeper insight into how the game changed hands multiple times over the course of the ninety minutes.

First-Half

1. Impact of Liverpool’s full-backs

Aware of the threat posed by Liverpool’s front trio, Pochettino went into the game with a 5-3-2 system with full-backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier pretty much playing deep inside their own half alongside the likes of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Sanchez in what looked like a flat back-five.

Tottenham’s narrow formation allowed Liverpool’s full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and particularly Robertson to press higher up the pitch and play virtually as auxiliary wingers.

Rose and Trippier didn’t get forward enough and were pinned back inside their own half, allowing the opposition to run them ragged and create plenty of chances from the wide areas. The Reds made the best possible use of the width of the pitch when Robertson got the better of Trippier to set up Firmino’s opener with a pinpoint cross.

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2. Lack of build-up play from Tottenham and Liverpool’s pressing

Spurs looked absolutely clueless against Liverpool’s high-pressing game and throughout the first-half, it looked as if they were merely relying on some of their quality players up front to spring some magic.

Harry Kane mostly cut an isolated figure in the final third while Lucas Moura tried to do too much by himself, often running aimlessly at the defenders to make something happen.

The aesthetic build-up play that is so often associated with Spurs went completely missing in the first half as Liverpool limited the involvement of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen to a minimum with their aggressive pressing off the ball.

Moreover, they played narrowly which didn’t allow the full-backs to drive forward and provide an extra attacking outlet to break down Liverpool’s solid backline.

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Second-Half

1. Pochettino’s tactical masterstroke

Jurgen Klopp’s plan was implemented to perfection during the first forty-five minutes and the onus was on Spurs to come back strongly in the second half to overturn the deficit. As good a reader of the game as he is, Pochettino was quick enough to identify the key factor behind Liverpool’s dominance, which was clearly the impact of the full-backs.

Spurs came out with more intent in the second half, with the likes of Rose and Trippier playing further up the pitch to negate the threat of Liverpool’s full-backs.

The visitors were able to get a stranglehold on the proceedings as Liverpool’s build-up play from the flanks came to an end, allowing Spurs to dictate the tempo. They made good use of possession and could have got themselves back into the game earlier but Eriksen was denied by a crucial block from Robertson.

Spurs enjoyed more possession and moved the ball around quicker as Eriksen and Alli got more involved. Kane and Trippier combined brilliantly to set up Moura’s equaliser and Spurs definitely looked the more threatening of the two sides.

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2. Klopp’s counter-punch

With the score level at 1-1, time was running out for Liverpool and they needed some inspiration to get back into the game. Spurs looked solid at the back and could have sealed the game had Sissoko taken his chance well.

Tottenham looked more likely to grab the winner but it was Jurgen Klopp’s intelligent reply to Pochettino’s masterstroke that turned the game in Liverpool’s favour once again.

Desperate to get back into the driver’s seat, Klopp changed to a 4-2-3-1 system, with Divock Origi and Sadio Mane playing out wide alongside Firmino in a No.10 role.

The introduction of Fabinho in the midfield also helped Liverpool’s cause as the Brazilian came up with some good incisive passing to improve cohesion in the midfield. Mo Salah was given the licence to use his pace and power as the spearhead of the attack and that is exactly what came to Liverpool’s rescue in the dying stages of the game.

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Well, Alderweireld was hardly to blame for that own goal, and as much as Lloris’ handling error was responsible for Spurs’ demise in the last minute of regulation time, one should take nothing away from Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.

Yes, it was unlucky for Spurs given that they came back strongly in the second half but it was probably Liverpool’s hunger to end their drought for silverware that ultimately decided the fate of the game.

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