This was a game much more pivotal to Liverpool than it was to Spurs. Anything less than a win at home would have added to the sense of despair at Anfield and fueled crisis talks. A win by the Reds would bolt them right back into the mix, putting them just a point back from Spurs. For Tottenham, it was all about not losing – so as to not give a major top 4 rival any boost. That’s why it was so weird that team’s approaches were exactly opposite. Liverpool in the end out worked Spurs, but were very fortunate to get an early goal to put that game plan into effect. Spurs were also hard done to have a perfectly good goal disallowed – something that would have forced Liverpool to open up and change tactics. The race for top four just got more exciting after this one
Liverpool played like Stoke – little flash all heart. The crowd showed tremendous support for Benitez and that energy clearly lifted the players. But tactically Liverpool also adopted a Stoke-like approach. They started the game playing a 4-5-1, but the personnel was really 5 defenders and 5 midfielders. This was really a 4-6 at times with everyone defending. While Liverpool had some chances late in the game, this was a side that didn’t really seem to have a goal in it. What they did have is hustle and an early well-taken – yet flukish – goal by Kuyt off a clearance from Reina, allowed them to sit back and scrap and defend. They at times had all 11 players behind the ball, which greatly frustrated Spurs passing attack.
Spurs really missed Lennon and Huddelstone. Yes Liverpool clearly missed Lennon has been Spurs most important and valuable player this year, as his pace and improving crossing ability has been the largest contributor to Spurs’ goals. But what also became clear is how important Tom Huddelstone is to Tottenham. He has become to Tottenham what Xavi Alonso was to Liverpool – in fact he would have been a good replacement for Alonso at Liverpool and far cheaper than Aquilani. Huddelstone plays deep and pings the ball around the field to great effect. He also reduces the need for Palacios to be a creative player. Yesterday Jenas and Palacios struggled to take hold of the midfield. With Jenas playing further up field, Palacios was forced to play the role of distributer which is just not his strong suit. Jenas played well at times and is more effective at getting forward into the box then Hudd, but Spurs clearly missed his ability to control the flow of the game.
What does Lucas do? He was anonymous for nearly 60 minutes, while Mascherano was all over the field.
Howard Webb hates Spurs. Redknapp said after the game, “I never seem to get a decision out of Howard Webb.” I maybe a bit of a homer, but Howard Webb has been awful for Spurs. He seems reluctant to make calls that go against top 4 clubs – witness the non-penalty call against Chelsea and the given penalty last year against Man United. Yesterday Spurs had a perfectly acceptable goal disallowed. Defoe was offside, took himself out of the play then reentered the play in such a way that the initial offsides gave him no advantage, such that that would never be called if Pepe Reina didn’t botch it. Furthermore, there was a distinct willingness to card Tottenham players – cards to Jenas and Palacios were particularly egregious – but a real reluctance to card Liverpool players – it took Maschereno about 4 late challenges before he was booked. Additionally, according to Webb it is impossible for Peter Crouch to be fouled, which makes no sense since the tactic used to defend against him on crosses entails pushing or holding him. As I Spurs fan, I hate Howard Webb.
Spurs need a striker upgrade to make Champions League. Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch, and Robbie Keane are all good strikers, unfortunately for Spurs they have all recently lacked a bit of cutting edge. While Defoe has been in good goal scoring form, he has started to press a bit more and frequently losses possession or picks the wrong option. Peter Crouch impressed early in the season, but simply doesn’t get the ball in the back of the net enough. When he is on the field, Spurs tend to move away from their strength – which is quick passing and playing to feet – and tend to simply hoof it up to Crouch. He is good in the air and a presence, but he leaves much to be desired. He is a great option off the bench when Spurs are looking to change things up, but not for a full 90. Keane similarly has not been in great form and he is not complimentary to Spurs top striker – Defoe – hence the reason he doesn’t start. Defoe is simply better and Defoe and Keane don’t create a perfect partnership. Pavlyuchenko? Who’s that? Spurs need someone else to really make a challenge…paging Ruud…