Missed Chances and Defensive Depth: Talking Points from Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool

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Liverpool travelled to North London for the second time in three league games, only managing to draw when they could, and perhaps should have come away with a win.

It was an intense and often heated game with plenty of talking points, several of which are discussed here.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Liverpool

Premier League – White Hart Lane – Saturday 27 August, 2016

Goals: Rose 72′; Milner 42′

Milner assumes responsibility on the spot, but can be left behind at left-back

Nothing beats a penalty taking left-back. But when the left-back in question is James Milner, then a few questions were raised as he scrunched up his face — assessing the direction of the wind, no doubt — prior to his spot kick.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2016: Liverpool's James Milner scores the first goal against Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Michel Vorm from the penalty spot during the FA Premier League match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Many would prefer a Ricardo Rodriguez type at left-back for Liverpool. A set-piece specialist with a wand of a left foot and the required Bundesliga credentials. A modern day Fabio Aurelio, if you like.

But as one of the higher paid players at the club, and vice-captain, it was good to see the number 7 taking responsibility when it came to penalties.

Of course having the gumption to step up and take one is only half of this job. Thankfully Milner was able to complete the second part too, slotting into the bottom corner as Spurs keeper Michel Vorm dove the wrong way.

Sadly, the 30-year-old still isn’t used to some of the defensive aspects of this role, as demonstrated by his indecision in the buildup to Spurs’ equaliser. But there were signs that he is improving in this area.

However, having an old-head learning a new role suggests that there isn’t enough being done in the transfer market. Liverpool should surely have a competent, quality left-back in the squad.

Take a chance take a chance take a tck-a chance chance

From Philippe Coutinho‘s miss during the early stages of the game, to the delayed pass from Georginio Wijnaldum which meant Adam Lallana was offside, denying Liverpool a great counter-attacking goal, it was a game of what might have been for Liverpool.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2016: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia sees his shot saved by Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Michel Vorm during the FA Premier League match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Coutinho had a couple of his usual efforts from outside the area, but today his chances were in and around the six yard box.

The first was laid on a plate by Roberto Firmino following a good through pass from Sadio Mane, but the number ten hit it at the keeper. The second, from a similar position, was less clear cut but produced the same outcome.

Joel Matip‘s towering frame meant he was able to reach the ball as it swung in from a corner kick, but it also meant that his effort skimmed the top of the bar.

Wijnaldum also came close with an effort from distance, but in open play the side were left ruing the breakdown of attacks in vital positions.

Lack of defensive depth

Liverpool started with no recognised centre-back on the bench.

Ragnar Klavan‘s recent injury has added to those of Joe Gomez and Mamadou Sakho, and it meant that the back-up in central defence was provided by midfielder Lucas Leiva – who played 45 minutes for the under-23s at Arsenal less than 24 hours before.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2016: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren in action against Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane during the FA Premier League match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Even more worrying are the reprots that Sakho could exit the club on loan, meaning the squad will be left with just three options in the position.

There were encouraging signs from today’s central defensive duo, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, despite the latter being left sprawling on the floor by Harry Kane early in the game. He recovered well, and Matip looked like a very useful presence, but reinforcements are needed.

The last away clean sheet came nine games ago against a weak Aston Villa side. The ragged backline on show as Danny Rose scuffed a shot past Mignolet’s near post suggests that this run could be set to continue.

A pressing battle

Contrary to popular belief, pressing existed in the Premier League pre-Klopp. Mauricio Pochettino has had his teams playing in this way for some time, having learnt his trade from the king of closing down, Marcelo Bielsa.

The games between Liverpool and Spurs are now a battle between two very similar, though not identical, pressing styles. This makes for a frantic fixture which can often appear scrappy, but it’s one that’s entertaining to watch regardless of the amount of goals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Tottenham Hotspur's manager Mauricio Pochettino during the FA Premier League match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

These similarities were reinforced today as both teams set up to harass the opposition from the front and through midfield. Coutinho’s early chance came from some aggressive pressing from Henderson and Lallana.

Tottenham changed their formation midway through the first half when the injured Kyle Walker was replaced by a striker, Vincent Janssen. Regardless of shape their pressing would come from the likes of Dele Ali, Vincent Wanyama, and Eric Lamela, their equivalent to Lallana, Henderson, and Mane.

The only difference was that Spurs had two specialist defensive midfield ball-winners in their ranks in the shape of Eric Dier an Wanyama. Even when Dier shifted out to right-back, Wanyama could still drop into this role.

Mane excellent – but needs to be careful!

The new signing has been the standout player for Liverpool so far this season, and he caused Spurs plenty of problems.

He caused them problems in attack and defence as he regularly tracked back to help Nathaniel Clyne, but sometimes his eagerness got the better of him.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane looks dejected as his goal is disallowed against Tottenham Hotspur during the FA Premier League match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It could be said that he was defending too much, rather than waiting to pounce on the attack, and his full-blooded challenges could easily have seen him pick up two yellow cards on another day.

That said, it’s encouraging that the player is going all-out on both sides of the ball, but it also raises the question as to who is the alternative in this role when Mane inevitably tires (or gets suspended!).

We saw against Burnley how much he’s missed when he isn’t there, even at this early stage in his Liverpool career. The only other player who looks to be similar in type is Lazar Markovic, but the manager and staff obviously don’t believe he’s similar in quality.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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