Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane yesterday was not the start to the season we were looking for and there were problems all over the pitch. Here, we step into Rafa Benitez’s shoes to analyse what problems the Reds’ experienced tactically on Sunday afternoon.
Throughout the game, Liverpool lacked the cutting edge going forward which resulted in a lack of chances and that horrible all-too-familiar feeling that ‘œit’s just one of those days’ as they game looked completely beyond the Reds.
The answer is obvious ‘“ we missed Xabi Alonso’s forward thinking and playmaking. Alonso’s absence in the midfield meant our attacking players were dropping deeper to his position and not supplying those killer balls we had last season. Take this example in the first half:
Mascherano supplies Kuyt on the centre circle who has space to play a killer ball forward if he thinks quickly. He has a great opportunity to play Torres in, who has begun his run forward as illustrated.
But Kuyt doesn’t have the same vision we enjoyed from Alonso last season and dawdles on the ball, allowing the Spurs defence to get back and reducing his options dramatically.
The result of the extra two seconds thinking time results in Kuyt being forced to play the ball deeper and shorter, keeping the ball in midfield and losing the momentum of a great attack.
But then that’s not Kuyt’s job. He doesn’t claim to be a chance-spotting playmaker, and we can’t continue to rely on other player filling that important, but vacated, position.
Later on in the first half we have a similar situation but with Torres, and is also a perfect example of the tiredness and lack of confidence he showed today.
The Spaniard picks the ball up half way inside the Spurs half and drives forward. As he approaches the penalty area, other than going for goal from distance himself, he has two clear options to tear the Spurs defence in two.
Gerrard is making a run to his right ‘“ a quick flick through into his path and Gerrard is away, through on goal, albeit from an increasingly accute angle. But we all know what Gerrard can do from those situations.
To his left, Kuyt is making a superb run ahead of his marker into the penalty area. An accurate ball now from Torres would meet the flying Dutchman’s run and put him through on goal ahead of Gomes.
But again there’s a delay in decision making and Torres takes an extra touch to asses his options before sliding a tired and lazy ball somewhere in Kuyt’s direction. The Spurs defence have a chance to come forward, take the ball and clear up what was a potentially dangerous situation.
Again, it’s the extra second or two of decision making that cost Liverpool again. Alonso had the ability to spot these runs instantly and trigger an automatic path for fancy, freeflowing and successful football.
His absence means in this situation, Torres was playing further back, trying to connect the midfield to attack. As a striker, he should have been one of the players running off the playmaker’s run, not the playmaker himself.
But there’s no point in dwelling on the past. Alonso’s gone, but the system remains the same and it showed in this game that it doesn’t work. Lucas is not a subsitute for Alonso, so Benitez needs to change things around ‘“ perhaps utilise the wings more if creative aspects of central midfield are going to be a problem.
Glen Johnson did fantastically in winning Liverpool’s penalty in the second half. From picking the ball up on the right side, he knew exactly what he was doing as he cut between two Spurs defenders at lightning pace, enticing Gomes out of his goal.
As Gomes approached him, Johnson showed intelligence and experience to toe poke the ball away from the keeper and going down under his challenge. Fantastic to see from the new right-back and a glimpse of what he can achieve out of nothing down the right side for us this season.
And finally, let’s go back to an incident in the first half and look at an incident which looks comical to the rest of the Premier League.
Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel both take the initiative to jump to clear after an initial mistake by Mascherano. They both clash heads resulting in a few minutes of Liverpool playing without both central defenders.
What were they thinking? Was there no communication as they both lept to nut each other? Not impressed, lads. As you can see there’s acres of space for them to be organized and get the situation under control. It’s great to see such determination by both players, but if they have a voice they need to use it.
The incident later forced Skrtel to withdraw from the game, replaced by 18-year-old Daniel Ayala. So we’re missing Alonso and, in this situation, Sami Hyypia ‘“ the two players who have departed Anfield this summer that haven’t been replaced.
Benitez will need to go back to the drawing board after this one ‘“ and probably the transfer market too.