But Stewart Downing capitalised on defensive errors from Kyle Walker and Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris to equalise. Suarez was then brought down by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, giving Gerrard the chance to win it from the spot.
Brendan Rodgers went with Daniel Sturridge alongside Suarez in an attacking 4-4-2 formation. Philippe Coutinho and Downing played as inverted wingers, cutting in from the flanks, while Lucas Leiva and Gerrard started in the centre. At times the formation became 4-4-1-1.
Jamie Carragher made his 500th Premier League appearance at the heart of the defence and Brad Jones came in for the injured Pepe Reina.
Andre Villas-Boas was forced to rejig things with Aaron Lennon unavailable and opted to strengthen the midfield by bringing in Jake Livermore. Mousa Dembele moved out to the right flank with both him and Gylfi Sigurdsson playing a little deeper in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Gareth Bale played in the hole behind Defoe.
How did the Team Handle Bale?
With so much of the focus pre-match on the outstanding form of Gareth Bale, the key for Liverpool was how to defend his particular threat. The answer was in Lucas, who pretty much stuck to the Welshman throughout and was excellent in his job.
He was partnered by Gerrard who played a similarly disciplined role, the sort of game that Rodgers craves out of him. He picked his moments going forward but he was far more impressive holding in midfield, protecting the back four, making key tackles and interceptions.
Gerrard has proved this season that he is more than capable of playing the team role that Rodgers needs rather than the all-action midfielder role that he may have done in his younger days. It was another case of leadership by example.
The result of Liverpool’s solidity in defensive midfield and the restriction on Bale was pretty clear, as Spurs often struggled to build attacks through him. While he did provide the cross for Vertonghen’s equaliser, Bale was often quiet. His method of attack is pretty straightforward; he runs with the ball as fast as he can, as far as he can, before hitting at the goal as hard as he can.
So there are a basically two ways of dealing with it – you stop him getting into his run, or you block the inevitable shot. Liverpool did well at the first, with only 3 of his ‘take-ons’ being successful (the yellow dots above), while he was a bit wasteful in shooting, often blasting over.
The result of this was that Spurs, for all their exciting and dynamic forward play, were hit and miss in the final third.
For every excellent Dembele run there was a Defoe miscue. In the end they were relying on the aerial prowess of Vertonghen and a set piece threat to cause any real damage.
It was fabulously executed, featuring some wonderful interplay between Philippe Coutinho and Jose Enrique, whose pass was brilliantly anticipated by Suarez to beat Lloris at his near post.
Downing – Played his part
Downing, in particular, had a good game. He made the most passes into the final third of any player on the pitch, and was 100% successful in them. He frequently found an overlapping Johnson or a lively Suarez and played smart balls, creating chances and finding space.
Downing has, along with Henderson, rehabilitated his reputation somewhat this season and is beginning to find a role within the Rodgers setup after seemingly being told he was free to leave the club.
Bale did not score, as he had in Tottenham’s five previous matches, but he contributed to both goals which were scored by the Belgian international, Vertonghen.
The free-kick that saw Spurs take the lead was questionable both because Bale flung his hands to his face, an area of his body Lucas Leiva had gone nowhere near to win it – and because it was soft. “On that reckoning, there would be 200 free-kicks a game,” said Rodgers.
Liverpool did not deal with it well. Jamie Carragher headed it down, it struck Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson slipped and Vertonghen, switching feet with the kind of effortless technical ability that seems to come as standard for those who have played for Ajax, drove it home.
The first had been more of a centre-half’s goal as Mousa Dembélé held the ball up by the corner flag and found Bale, who characteristically produced a superlative cross.
Once more Vertonghen intervened, rising above Johnson to leave Brad Jones stranded.
Coutinho v Allen
After Spurs went 2-1 ahead they were beginning to take control of the game, and this came through numbers in midfield.
In Sigurdsson and Dembele they had two wide players more comfortable in the middle, and thus they were increasingly outnumbering and outpassing Liverpool in the middle third.
While Lucas and Gerrard coped well, the force of numbers was beginning to show. Rodgers responded with a smart substitution, replacing Coutinho for Allen. Now, Coutinho hadn’t been poor, nor was Allen particularly great when he came on, but it addressed a balance problem.
Aside from his contribution to the goal, Coutinho was a bit isolated and was looking tired. In bringing on Allen, Suarez was moved to the left and Allen gave them the extra man in midfield to get more of a foothold on the game.
While his contribution was limited, it gave Liverpool more defensive solidity, stopped Spurs from running away with the game and put Suarez up against Kyle Walker – who about 5 minutes later hit back a horrendous backpass which ended up in the back of the net, via Downing.
Despite the interesting tactical match-ups and changes that occurred during this game, it is ultimately defined by Spurs taking aim squarely at their foot and pulling the trigger. After Kyle Walker contributed to that goal, Spurs had a couple of chances of their own to get back in the lead.
At 2-1 they were looking comfortable. This was compounded by Defoe who inexplicably headed the ball back into the box while defending a corner, put Assou-Ekotto under pressure and the result was a penalty.
The Final Word
It showed good character from Liverpool to take advantage of mistakes and drag themselves back. Rodgers showed tactical nous in switching things up and there were excellent performances from Gerrard, Lucas and Downing to give them more hope going forward.
For Spurs, it’s a harsh result they thought they had the game won – but they need to figure out a more nuanced version of running very fast at the defence for a main tactic.
Bale and Dembele are excellent players, but when man marked, they don’t have the attacking threat to worry top teams. Defoe was anonymous. They need to address this.
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