Klopp Tactically Capitulates Against Spurs

When Jurgen Klopp’s line-up for the game against Spurs came out, fans were surprised. He had retained the same midfield three that had been excellent against Huddersfield. They wondered if he had gotten carried away by a game against such a significantly weaker opponent. Leaving Wijnaldum, who is often very good in big games, on the bench was the main issue people had with the line-up. Wijnaldum might not offer anything special on the ball such as passing but his strengths are often useful in big games. He has the ability to keep things moving and his mobility is a huge asset. However, Klopp had a plan.

Klopp’s plan largely worked in the first half as Spurs were toothless. It was down to the pressing. Every time Lloris had the ball, his options were limited. Mane, Salah and Firmino were all stationed high up, giving Davinson Sanchez and Vertonghen no breathing space. It made building from the back extremely difficult for Spurs as Ben Davies and Trippier were required to push up. Milner was particularly important as he added a fourth body to the pressing. Sometimes, it felt like the Spurs players were outnumbered – that was how good the pressing was. More than anything, Spurs had to be wary of the pace of Salah and Mane.

It took only three minutes for Spurs to be forced into a costly error. Eric Dier was forced into a wayward back pass and Salah pounced. Spurs had been unable to get the ball away and Dier tried to send the ball backwards, away from the pressure. It was a poor pass that looked more like a reflexive interception and the speed of Salah took Sanchez out of contention. 1-0.

Spurs saw more of the ball and desperately tried to open up Liverpool but the often speedy hassling from the Liverpool players kept destroying their rhythm. Henderson, Can and Milner were doing a great job limiting the passing options of Dier and Dembele. In fact, they made it extremely difficult for Eriksen to get on the ball and this limited creativity for Spurs. It was, instead, Liverpool who were creating the clearer chances. It made Dembele have to take the initiative and drive forward with the ball. He succeeded in getting past Henderson a couple of times but ended up losing possession or getting fouled. Every time he drove forward, he left space behind him that Liverpool could exploit. It was risky but that was the only way. By the end of the half, Liverpool had done a good job of limiting Spurs in attack and completely locking up Kane, Alli and Eriksen. Only Son had any sort of joy.

Once the second half began, Klopp’s first mistake became apparent. It became clear that he had no contingency plan for when his players got tired because of their relentless pressing. The press completely disappeared. Firmino and Salah were the furthest forward but they were on the halfway line by this time, unlike in the first half. Mane had retreated and Liverpool’s shape looked more like a 4-4-2 than 4-3-3. Spurs suddenly had the upper hand. All of a sudden, Vertonghen and Sanchez had all the time in the world to pick out passes and Tripper and Davies were in the game. They became more dangerous, able to whip in crosses for Kane or Alli to pounce. The pressure increased as the half went on. Liverpool were forced into conceding set pieces in wide areas as they tried to keep Spurs from whipping in crosses. This proved slightly dangerous as Eriksen’s deliveries were a serious threat.

What Liverpool needed at this point was patient passing to take the sting out of the Spurs momentum – either that or persistent fouling. And they had the players to do this, right there on the pitch. They would have been able to conserve energy by making the ball do the work and keeping possession. Instead, they hoofed the ball forward every time they got it hoping it would fall to Salah or he could get to it before the Spurs defenders because of his pace. Salah himself was out of sorts for the most part, easily losing those hoofed balls whenever he managed to get to them first. It was a bad strategy that was not working. It only increased the pressure on Liverpool. This was the point where Klopp made his second mistake. He took off Henderson (his best passer) and Mane (one of the few who could keep possession and draw fouls) and brought on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum (his two worst midfield passers, statistically). It may not have been as bad if he had brought on only one at the time, but he brought on two. It played right into the hands of the Spurs players and showed that he was only interested in doing more of the same, relying on energy and hoofball to keep the lead rather than getting on the ball and possessing it properly to limit the time the Spurs players had on it. Pochettino responded by bringing on Lamela for Sanchez. This meant Dier moved in central defence with Dembele with Dembele in front of him in defensive midfield. In truth, there was no difference between Dier in midfield or defence now as Liverpool offered next to nothing in attack. Dier could afford to be beside Dembele without worrying about much. Also, Spurs now had one more attacking player for Liverpool to worry about. Klopp’s move proved to be counterproductive as the pressure doubled. Spurs were all over Liverpool and one could almost hear the worry in the stands. Klopp was betting on his team holding on to the 1-0 lead and probably nicking a late second to kill off the game, off a counter attack. He almost got away with it.

In the 78th minute, Klopp took off Milner and brought on Matip. He was switching to three (or five) at the back and going fully defensive – conservative, in more gorgeous language. Pochettino responded by bringing on Wanyama for Dembele. It took him less than a minute to have an immediate impact. A dangerous Ben Davies cross led to a Karius punch which Cancould not clear and it fell to Wanyama just outside the box. He sent it right back with an incredibly delicious hit and the ball flew into the roof of the net. Karius could do nothing about it. In truth, Wanyama may have missed that nine times out of ten. It went in this one time. 1-1.

The pressure increased. Spurs were all over Liverpool and Klopp had nothing else. His plan to preserve the lead had backfired and the team was lacking any form of balance. Spurs then got a penalty few minutes later which would have seen them go 2-1 up. This capitulation by Liverpool was no surprise. It had been coming and Klopp had no answer. Karius saved Kane’s poor effort and the relief at Anfield was palpable. It would take only individual brilliance for Liverpool to walk away with the three points. The way things were looking, Liverpool were probably hoping they could run away with a draw as Spurs searched for the winner. That moment of individual brilliance arrived in the 91st minute when Salah twisted and turned and produced magic. 2-1 and it looked like Klopp had somehow gotten away with it. The joy was short-lived as Spurs got another penalty few seconds from the end. Kane stepped up and sent Karius the wrong way this time. 2-2. Game over.

Jurgen Klopp got out-tacticked by Pochettino at Anfield. It was really poor from him. His tactical responses favoured Spurs more than they helped Liverpool and ultimately put them in trouble. In a game where three points would have been very valuable, Liverpool left with just one. They can have no complaints as Spurs were the better team, on the balance of play and really should have won. If Kane had scored the first penalty, Liverpool would most likely have lost. Klopp was extremely fortunate to even leave with a draw. He needs to do better in games like this.