Plan B, not pretty, but it works
Liverpool 0 Tottenham 0
All things considered, a good point at Anfield.
Tottenham’s Plan A is one of majesty, pace and devastation when applied with pomp and confidence. A full strength Spurs side is arguably the best footballing side in the country, and by virtue of the quality we possess it means we can compete with anyone. Sometimes, it falters a little, we make hard work of it which can result in a bit of a grind to churn out the three points. Every team has its off day, but truly aspiring teams with tough mental strength and spine can still win when playing below par. We still prefer the occasions when the swagger is wonderful and the opposition mesmerised. But you can’t always be at full strength.When we’re not, we’ve got Plan B.
It’s not really a Plan B though, is it? It’s more of a damage limitation exercise. Actually, that’s unfair. Scrap that. It’s more of an emergency restructure. It’s usually something we witness when we lack width (either one or both of our flankers). But Plan B is good for the soul, if not beauty to behold when watching it unfold on the pitch. When you’re not at your most effective and can’t attain full pelt, you dig deep. Its more slow brooding and stop-start. Depending on the opposing side, this can be a test of fortitude and concentration.
I’ve written about our squad depth a number of times this season. The fact we are so finely tuned that a key player missing here or there weakens us with far greater impact because of how much we rely so heavily on our system. I said in the preview for the Liverpool game that this is a testing period, every game is now massive in terms of retaining momentum. Every point vital as we aim to consolidate third or better.
If we trip and fall, I have no qualms about our ability to stand up, dust off and continue the march.
We didn’t trip and fall at Anfield on Monday night. We got pushed about a little by a side that likes to impact games with their physicality. In response we simply defended resolutely. We displayed grit and courage and even though the game as a spectacle was poor (boring at times - edit: need to elborate on this, what I'm refering to is the expectancy of say how we performed away to City in the second half in comparison to soaking in pressure at Anfield) we played with professionalism and gained an important point in doing so – momentum intact.
Several players unavailable (Lennon, Defoe, Sandro, Kaboul, van der Vaart) which meant others deputising with the usual team responsibilities. The bench consisted of the following outfield players: Nelson, Khumalo, Rose, Luongo, Lancaster, Saha. Illustrating again how strong our first team is but how we lack the same ‘replacement’ quality when they are missing and have to make do with youth and oldies.
Luka in the Rafa role, an example of the deputising, pushing more forward offensively rather than staring in his more natural deeper position. We shaped up in a 433 with Livermore, Parker and Modric in the centre and Bale/Niko behind Adebayor. Bale is obviously going to be contained on the left with no concern for the right with Lennon missing – which is why Bale once more ventured into the middle (to help out our lone striker). It’s not perfect, but there was no criminal negligence in terms of lack of discipline.
Slow starts for one or two others (Livermore’s positioning was tricky to work out early on), but the midfield trio worked their socks off across the 90 minutes. Parker outstanding in the second half making up for one or two mistakes in the first. Modric again imperious in terms of pass production and close control and perhaps understated by some who seek more dynamic creativity from him. Can’t be expected in every game. The way he retains and recycles possession should never be scoffed at. Sometimes we simply need to match and attempt to better our opponents to make sure we don’t lose the midfield. Its also apparent how important van der Vaart is, dropping deep and linking play.
Dawson another stand out player at the back, no coincidence with King by his side. Friedel alert when called into the game to shot-stop. But alas, the match lacked end to end clear cut chances. Adebayor mostly isolated up front and when in possession not able to keep it or use it’s efficiently. Walker also struggled a little to get past Johnson but got himself involved in terms of defending.
There was no disputing a solid first half of football. Liverpool don’t lose at home (don’t win many either) and although I was confident of a win pre-match – changing my mind after the injury news – I was more than content with how the game was playing out. We were not being bullied or struggling under pressure. There was no pressure. No mistakes either. Containment with the added bonus of perhaps a cheeky counter-attacking winner. The key here was to get Bale into the game or for Bale to get himself into the game more and for us to support Adebayor and for him to hold the ball up.
No Harry Redknapp at the game. Insert joke about the Anfield Cat being Harry’s next bank account. Nothing Kevin Bond couldn't handle (team talk, not the cat). We looked to continue the consistency in the second half. Which came to life when Bale was fouled and got up and pushed Agger, then got a yellow card for it.
By fouled I meant dived. Have not a clue what was going through his head. Only part of his game I disapprove of, it’s not clever and it’s not Tottenham. We don’t cheat and we don’t dive. Well, unless you’re Bale. He’s done that twice and got booked twice for simulation this season. I know there are some stats that show Bale v Ronaldo and how Bale has scored more and assisted more at this point in his career than Ronaldo has. But please Gareth, don’t try to own the play-acting stat too. Lucky not to get a red. Perhaps frustration was getting the better of him. Another learning curve to navigate.
However (there’s always a however). Being critical of the player, it doesn’t sit well with me. I want him to develop and to continue to progress and improve to truly world class stature. But I don’t want to spend my time bemoaning the kid whilst he wears the Lilywhite. Remember when he was a left-back that couldn’t win a game? He’s come a long way, he’s picked up a few bad habits. We’ll have them ironed out of him in time. He didn't quite manage to fulfil my half-time wish to get into the game more. He's not always going to have the space. He'll learn how to manipulate it from one game to the next, from one class of opposition to the next. Neo couldn't leap from a building or stop a bullet in the early days. So let's hope Redknapp does a good Morpheus impersonation.
For now, enjoy while you can. And be patient.
Bale could have won it for us late on (86th min). A rare fluff in a one on one. Carroll equally wasteful for them, so no complaints. And Suarez more so (87th min) with a free header.
Saha made his début, a like for like replacement for Adebayor, isolated and difficult for him to get into the game. Parker shot blocking a Gerrard effort and was also assaulted twice by Suarez. Niko – we are quick to be critical of him when he doesn’t perform, so best to give him credit for his work, especially his defensive shift.
That’s twice I’ve mentioned the returning hero (Suarez) in what Sky Sports were building up to be a fairytale return for the lad. A standing ovation no less from the home support and salivation from the commentators. What a guy. No fairytale ending though. He'll have to make do with the banners.
In the end, goal-less. We passed our test. Emphasis more so on defending than attacking. King always glues the back four together and everyone played their part. Collectively, as a unit – they all played a part in making sure we took that point.
Liverpool, in form, could not break us down or get any clear stranglehold on the game. It’s frustrating in some ways that we could not play what we are accustomed to seeing. Liverpool are Stoke but less effective. Plenty of dirtiness, little class. On and off the pitch. Skrtel on Bale. An occasion where Gareth is well within his rights to stay down. Off the pitch, can I mention Suarez once final time and the embarrassing siege mentality of Dalglish? An ugly football team, an ugly club. Happy to see them sat in the pot along with one or two other sides that can’t quite get the better of us these days.
Football cycles. You live through them. You deny it's happening to you, whilst others embrace the change. Soon enough, all you have is a turn of your head whilst you look back and remember the past. Then there are those busy with looking forward, making the future theirs. We are still living through it. Nothing has yet to be set in stone.
Proud as ever to be Spurs. Hope we get the core (first team starters) of the missing players back for Newcastle. That’s going to be a massive three points. Like every other game.
Love the shirt.