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THESE ARE THE CHAAAAMPIOOOONS

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Mark Thompson

Jun 04 2019

6 mins read

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Hello yet again. Or, if this is our first Get Goalside! outing, welcome.

If it is your first, you join us at an awkward time as I take a second for some brief news. I’ll be editoring StatsBomb’s World Cup content for the coming weeks (the first piece is here!), so I won’t be able to put full time into the newsletter.

I think that I’ll still send something out each Tuesday, as I’ll be watching a lot of the tournament and have some thoughts, as well as being able to share the absolutely ace work we’ll have on StatsBomb.

But, for the moment, we are Champions League central.

My thoughts on the game are mainly Spurs-centric, in that they’re ‘why were Spurs struggled’ and ‘why Liverpool are an easy side to struggle against’.

I was working for Football Whispers during the game (after which I wrote this rather fine, poetic piece on Divock Origi), so I was a little distracted. My main thought was why Tottenham weren’t giving the ball to Kieran Trippier, who always seemed to be in space. It seemed like they were avoiding the wings.

On re-watching, I saw what friend of the newsletter Bobby Gardiner had pointed out to me, that Spurs were playing Dele Alli as kind of a proper left-winger, sitting on Trent Alexander-Arnold.

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It’s not like either Dele - or Son, who switched with him in the role - were often target with passes to exploit TAA with though.

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This made Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld’s erring on the ball make more sense to me, though (so thanks Bobby). If playing those long balls to try and pin a young full-back is a main strategy, then it makes sense to keep the ball with the centre-backs while the relevant parties up front work opportunities and angles for themselves.

It’s just that never really happened.

It should also be said that Alderweireld and Vertonghen looked a little unsure of themselves. Neither made major errors, but their first touches were regularly not-great. And in a Champions League final, one goal down, and against a Liverpool side who are pretty on-form you just can’t afford to be below par.

These poor touches, combined with Hugo Lloris always being a bit shaky under pressure at the best of times, meant that Spurs struggled to trouble Liverpool’s high pressure. There was one particularly amusing moment in the second half which summed it up perfectly: three players, all pointing to each other, suggesting where to pass the ball.

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But Liverpool’s high pressure is tough to beat. In Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, they have two intelligent and well-drilled defenders who are incredibly quick to close down spaces (or recover if they’re bypassed).

With Firmino also an intelligent and well-drilled defender, that’s a difficult proposition even before you add in the midfielders who’ll step up to plug any gaps (Jordan Henderson lurking behind Christian Eriksen in the middle of the picture we just saw).

Michael Cox has pointed out good attacking opportunities that Tottenham had to support the view that Pochettino got his tactics right or, at least, didn’t get them badly wrong.

I buy this for the second half more than the first. In the first half, I don’t really know what Tottenham’s plan was and I think individuals took advantage of moments on occasion.

In the second half, though, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli were placed either side of Harry Kane, rather than both to his left. Christian Eriksen moved to a No.10/deeper midfield role.

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This helped, because (I think) the consistent presence of Alli and Son forced the Liverpool full-backs to stay back, meaning they were more reluctant to sprint out to close down the Spurs full-backs. It also meant that there was more variety in the long ball options for Tottenham when they played them.

It seemed a more efficient use of space than the lopsided version in the first half, where the attacking midfielders didn’t move enough to regularly work angles through Liverpool’s midfield nor did they make runs in behind to get passes over the top.

The game after 60-70 minutes was one of two tired teams slugging it out rather than a tactical battle. Space started to open up as Liverpool struggled to apply pressure high up the pitch. Their switch to a 4-4-2 in defence may have been aimed to free up two forwards in attack (rather than being in a 4-5-1 with Mane and Salah dropping deep to track Spurs’ full-backs).

Eric Dier proved to be a surprisingly dynamic presence deep in midfield, but by the point he entered the pitch it didn’t make as much of an impact as it might’ve done earlier on.

I’m unsure about what I think of the match as a whole. I’ve seen some people whose football opinions I respect say that it was two good teams playing fairly well (or, at least, a good defensive team blunting another broadly good team), and others whose opinions I respect saying that it was two teams playing badly.

I think that Liverpool set up well as like a 7/10 in the first half and that Spurs didn’t push them to prove that they were worthy of an 8 or 9. But because Liverpool were well set-up, it would be harsh to say that Spurs were bad.

In the second-half, I’m more willing to say that Spurs were decent and that Liverpool were kinda sitting back happy to defend but that that strategy could have gone wrong if Spurs had scored (which they definitely could have done!).

Should Liverpool have created more in attack during the game? Probably. They had some decent chances between their actual goals but I think there’s definitely a parallel universe where Spurs equalise late on and everyone is like ‘gee, it was a mistake for Liverpool to not make more of an effort to create high-quality chances for the entire game after their first goal’.

Anyway.

No pen. Sissoko was doing a normal footballing action. He didn’t have time to react. His arm moved downwards, slightly, because the mechanics of his shoulder joint necessitate it. Just because “that’s what’s called as a penalty now” doesn’t make it a sensible decision. We went through a similar thing 4-5 years ago when Luis Suarez started dinking it up at players’ hands in the Premier League. Refs, smartly, decided to stop giving penalties for this.

Although I’ve tried to present the argument for some controversial penalties like the United vs PSG one earlier in the year, I’m now of the view that refs should probably err on the side of not giving a pen for incidents where maaaaybe the defender left their arm out on the off-chance it blocks a shot/cross but one can’t be sure. Because this decision was a nonsense.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the StatsBomb World Cup offering.

‘Til the next time.

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