What Tottenham can learn from Villarreal against Liverpool
Exploiting Liverpool’s full-backs, getting the best out of assist king Kulusevski… and this time taking their chances: How Tottenham can learn from Villarreal after they hurt the Reds in the Champions League and derail their quadruple push
- Liverpool showed rare weakness during first half against Villarreal in 3-2 win
- The Reds fell 2-0 down during the Champions League semi-final in Spain
- But despite a second half fightback, they have offered clues on how to beat them
- Tottenham could be well equipped to exploit those areas when they visit Anfield
- Antonio Conte’s side face Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday evening
Liverpool are on the charge – not just in the Premier League but on every front they can find as they come ever closer to what would be a sensational quadruple.
The Carabao Cup is already sitting cosy in the cabinet and a Champions League final against Real Madrid will follow soon after an FA Cup final against Chelsea later this month.
In the Premier League it’s looking a little different and, while the title race is out of their hands, they are far from out of it as even with just four games left they sit just one point behind Manchester City.
Liverpool are flying following their 5-2 aggregate Champions League semi-final win over Villarreal that keeps their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple alive
That same City side who will now be rocking following their dramatic collapse in the Champions League semi-final at Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
Liverpool have a fairly kind run-in but if it looks like one team can stop them then it is…(checks notes), of course Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday.
Yes, the same Tottenham who are not exactly famed for winning the big games and have a rather wretched record at Anfield – winning just one Premier League encounter at the ground in 29 years and even that 2-0 victory from back in 2011 was an end-of-season dead rubber.
Still though, they have taken plenty of draws in that time and have curiously on many occasions provided stern tests to the Reds even throughout the Jurgen Klopp era. They don’t get thumped too often on Merseyside and there is usually no more than a goal in it.
Luka Modric celebrates scoring from the penalty spot against Liverpool in May 2011 during a 2-0 victory – Tottenham’s only Premier League win at Anfield in 29 years
But Spurs could have all the tools they need to severely dent Liverpool’s quadruple hopes
Another one of those hard battled draws could be enough to give Manchester City a vital three-point cushion with just three to play.
Antonio Conte has also been given a video manual by Villarreal on where Liverpool’s weaknesses are after the Spanish side raced into a shock 2-0 lead on Tuesday night in the Champions League semi-final against the Reds.
Spurs certainly have the personnel to help learn a few tracks from Unai Emery’s outfit, even if they did wilt in the second half to lose 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.
The first clue doesn’t need Columbo to find, as Liverpool did look suspect from far post crosses on Tuesday night – it’s where both of Villarreal’s goals game from.
Liverpool’s full-backs were exploited in the first half against Villarreal on Tuesday, with Boulaye Dia (left) tapping home following a cut-back at the far post from Etienne Capoue (right)
Another cross saw Trent Alexander-Arnold beaten in the air by Francis Coquelin for 2-0
It’s not just the cross though, it’s having attacking players catching Liverpool’s full-backs flat footed. For the first goal Andy Robertson was caught out by Etienne Capoue ghosting behind the left-back to read a cross after charging unmarked into the box, before applying a half-volley across goal to be tapped home.
The second saw Capoue then provide the cross himself towards a standing still Trent Alexander-Arnold who was bullied by the attacking run made by Francis Coquelin before the ex-Arsenal midfielder rose comfortably highest to head home.
Robertson’s defensive struggles were a curious sight, and it will be interesting how he fares against Spurs’ dangerous attack – especially his likely opposite number on Saturday evening in Dejan Kulusevski.
Dejan Kulusevski has been a revelation since joining Tottenham on loan from Juventus
While much has been made of Liverpool’s own January signing in Luis Diaz, it’s been Kulusevski who has been tearing up the Premier League having already contributed eight assists and three goals in just three months.
The Swede on loan from Juventus has been vital for Conte’s side in their push for the top four and has crucially added a full width across the park so that Spurs are not totally reliant on the goal threats of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
Take a look at the assists table since Kulusevski arrived and the Premier League’s top five are dominated by Spurs’ new holy trinity.
The forward (left) has teamed up emphatically with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min
Tottenham’s trio have produced 18 assists since Kulusevski’s February debut – from SofaScore
It appears if Spurs are to upset Liverpool then Kulusevski attacking wing play will be key, but that’s not the only area of concern for the Reds.
In the seconds before the opening goal – and as a result of it too – Klopp’s team were caught out by central runs from midfield. Naby Keita for instance let Coquelin attack the penalty area to collect a forward pass who was then allowed in his run to the right of the box to float a cross to the back post. This was seconds before an unmarked Capoue was allowed to make his run as mentioned for the first goal.
Spurs though may struggle to create similar openings in that they no longer have an obvious player who can perform that attacking run from deep. Dele Alli actually had one of his better games for Spurs this season in the reverse fixture at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium exploiting similar circumstances.
Spurs missed a hatful of chances in their reverse fixture against Liverpool back in December
But he is now at Everton and one of Tottenham’s weaknesses for what has been nearly three years now has been the absence of quality from central attacking midfield areas following Dele’s dramatic decline in form and the sale of Christian Eriksen.
Tottenham will though take heart from the number of chances they created against the Reds in a 2-2 draw earlier in the season when on the counter attack they ripped apart a Liverpool back four who couldn’t cope with the link-up play of Son and Kane, relying on super stops from Alisson and poor finishing from Conte’s men.
That day, Tottenham were keener to play central through balls behind Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate. The problem is that sort of tactic is unlikely to work again at Anfield with Virgil van Dijk back in the defence. The Dutchman can often read that pass before it’s even been played and Spurs may find that well will quickly run dry if they use that as Plan A again.
But they can spring a surprise after recording a double over Manchester City in February
Antonio Conte is also hoping he can guide his side back into the Champions League
So what other hopes to Spurs have of taking three points from Anfield? Well in three matches against the title rivals this term they have yet to lose – even recording a sensational double over Manchester City in the process.
We can all laugh at Tottenham and their tag as the big chokers of the top flight, but they don’t always get it wrong and every so often they can bloody the nose of the game’s biggest teams in quite a brutal fashion. Who had them down to win 3-2 at City in February when Pep Guardiola’s side had been on a 15-match unbeaten run in the Premier League consisting of 14 wins?
This isn’t to say we should all be sticking our annual incomes on Tottenham to run riot in a 5-0 Anfield demolition job, but for a game many think Liverpool will stroll through, it could still present a major banana skin for Klopp’s quadruple chasers.
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