Liverpool Midfield Shines in Dismantling Tottenham in Absence of Steven Gerrard

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool celebrates scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on December 15, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Liverpool produced the best 90-minute performance of the Brendan Rodgers reign on Sunday, when they beat Tottenham Hotspur away from home by a thumping 5-0 scoreline to move into second place in the Premier League.

Almost halfway through the current season, that one sentence alone should be enough to convince most that yes, this year, Liverpool certainly can be the real deal.

While a title challenge may yet still prove beyond them with a fast-becoming-unstoppable Manchester City to play shortly and another tough away game at Chelsea on the horizon, the game at White Hart Lane underlined the Reds' status as one of the primary top four contenders for this year.

It also perhaps suggested Spurs have some way to go before they can be looked upon as such.

Liverpool might have been without injured captain Steven Gerrard, but their relentless approach to the match started with their midfield and spread throughout the side, with Jordan Henderson in particular a perfect example of how Rodgers wanted his team to be playing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool is marked by Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on December 15, 2013 in London, England. (Pho
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The Reds reverted to a 1-2 midfield in their basic 4-3-3 shape, with Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson sitting ahead of Lucas Leiva. Those two were then able to close down Tottenham's midfield time and time again, with the combination of Moussa Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho having no time on the ball at all and very little positive impact on the match.

In fact, none of the three saw out the game; Sandro went off injured, Dembele was substituted and Paulinho was sent off.

Spurs' other central midfielder, Etienne Capoue, was played out of position at centre-back due to injuries, and though he completed the 90 minutes, he probably wished he didn't have to, such was the run-around Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez gave him down that inside-left channel.

Henderson covered an incredible amount of distance during the course of the match, with his pressing and winning of the ball inevitably followed by galloping vertical runs through the centre of the pitch, penetrating through Spurs' flimsy centre time and time again.

The gaps between the home team's defence and midfield was exploited by either Suarez or Coutinho dropping into space, before linking up with the other and Henderson on a regular basis. Henderson's constant drives forward drew defenders out of position if they came toward him to close him down or else gave him time to pick a pass or shoot if not.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15:  Manager Brendan Rodgers of Liverpool congratulates Jordan Henderson of Liverpool on scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on December 1
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

His goal came from such a run, latching onto a first-time pass from Coutinho as he burst into the penalty area unmarked. Henderson's first shot—and Suarez's effort on the rebound—was saved, but the No. 14 buried his first league goal of the season at the second attempt.

What was particularly impressive from this Liverpool side was that, even going into the break 2-0 up, they did not call off their pursuit of Spurs' middle men. Aside from a 10-minute spell just into the second half where Spurs did improve, Liverpool refused to sit back and soak up pressure, instead culling any signs of danger before the attacking players in the home team could make an impact.

Joe Allen was particularly impressive in this regard.

It says a lot about Liverpool's control and domination of the match that all three of their central midfielders completed at least 90 percent of their passes. Allen was about far more than recycling possession, though, as he bossed his taller and supposedly stronger adversaries to the tune of making eight tackles in the match, winning seven.

That's more than every other Liverpool player and more than all three of Spurs' starting central midfielders put together.

Lucas certainly played his part, too, with a number of clearances and interceptions and just three misplaced passes all game, but his was a "clearing-up" role whereas the two ahead of him got through enormous amounts of work to lighten the load on the defensive players.

The performances of Coutinho and Suarez were as noteworthy as ever, but special attention should be paid to Raheem Sterling's display.

Written off already by some, the winger terrorised Kyle Naughton down Spurs' left so badly he had to be subbed at half-time, and his goal, Liverpool's fifth and final strike, was richly deserved. His crossfield ball to Coutinho in the buildup for Henderson's goal should not be overlooked.

Liverpool have made the best possible start to their tough run of Christmas fixtures, picking up a thumping win on a ground they hadn't so much as drawn at over the past six seasons. With Daniel Sturridge still to return to the attack and Gerrard to the midfield, it promises to be a hugely exciting second half of the season ahead.


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