Tottenham Hotspur's Defensive Mistakes Undermine Them Again Against Liverpool

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2014


Individual mistakes at the back cost Tottenham Hotspur yet again in their 4-0 loss to Liverpool on Sunday.

March has been a disastrous month for the reputation of the club's defenders. The Jan Vertonghen-instigated capitulation against Chelsea was soon followed by Younes Kaboul leading his team in a show of poor marking at home to Benfica—both defeats.

Better—though, not impenetrable—in the loss to Arsenal and 2-2 Europa League return leg draw with Benfica, Kyle Naughton's miscalculations in the 3-2 win over Southampton did not prove costly after a well-earned comeback win.

Jan Vertonghen got caught out against Chelsea earlier in March.
Jan Vertonghen got caught out against Chelsea earlier in March.Clive Rose/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Kaboul and substitute Michael Dawson, their errors at Anfield would not be rectified.

The Frenchman was not helped by the lax job Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen did in the build-up, with neither doing much to stop the on-running Glen Johnson being freed by Raheem Sterling's well-weighted pass.

Vertonghen and Kaboul both were unable to adjust their feet sufficiently to stop Johnson's cross, the ball going between the former's legs and off his partner's into the net.

Along with Naughton and Rose, the centre-back pair were again selected together in the hope a little stability would do Spurs some good. The early goal was an undoubted blow, and was almost exacerbated five minutes later when Kaboul was caught out by Luis Suarez before recovering.

Tim Sherwood's side began to calm down, though, with Kaboul regaining his own composure with a couple of clearances. The presence of Vertonghen beside him was harder to define.

One minute, he was bursting forward with the ball looking to launch an attack, the next, he lackadaisically let a ball pass him, which could have put Jordan Henderson through on goal. He hobbled off after 23 minutes, leaving Spurs to make an unwanted readjustment they had little leeway for against the eager Reds.

Luis Suarez capitalised on Dawson's error to put Liverpool 2-0 up.
Luis Suarez capitalised on Dawson's error to put Liverpool 2-0 up.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In his second touch on the ball, Vertonghen's replacement, Dawson, did not realise Suarez's lurking presence when he looked to pass to Kaboul. The Uruguayan pounced, holding off the defender and outpacing the substitute to put Liverpool up, 2-0.

It was a galling moment for the returning Dawson, a brain freeze not in keeping with an otherwise effective display. He nullified the dangerous Daniel Sturridge in their second-half encounters and was alert to stop tantalising through balls from Suarez and Jon Flanagan.

Together with Kaboul, nine of their attempted clearances were successful, they made five interceptions and nary was a header not won by either, via The stand-in skipper was undoubtedly troubled at times, but in terms of penetration, Liverpool had more joy down the flanks, with Sterling particularly causing Rose problems.

The control and often sublime craft exhibited by Brendan Rodgers' Premier League table-toppers in midfield (not to mention their effective aggressiveness in defence) was likely to ensure a win regardless. But for the mistakes, Spurs might at least have come away with a more flattering scoreline.

Sherwood made a notable adjustment in the starting position of his back four...

...yet as with the loss against Chelsea (in which Spurs' "safety in numbers" approach was making it hard for the Blues to break through, if not giving them much trouble down the other end), the errors ultimately made it moot.

Until getting injured in late January, Vlad Chiriches and Dawson had largely proved to be a solid defensive partnership for Spurs.
Until getting injured in late January, Vlad Chiriches and Dawson had largely proved to be a solid defensive partnership for Spurs.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In Spurs' previous crushing losses to Manchester City (away), Liverpool and Chelsea, a common denominator was changes to the defence. In a position where awareness of your team-mates' positioning and an understanding of their habits and instincts is vital, unsettling a sense of cohesion is not advisable.

It was forced upon the north Londoners here and did not help, but in none of these examples should it totally excuse their general poorness and inability to stand up to such talented teams.

A failure to occupy and test these top teams going forward also needs to be addressed by Sherwood. Finding a combination in defence that is not so subject to making mistakes is arguably the more pressing concern.

Vertonghen coming off with an injury against Liverpool did not stop some criticising his attitude.
Vertonghen coming off with an injury against Liverpool did not stop some criticising his attitude.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Especially centrally, Tottenham have some quality defenders individually. This season, though, only Dawson and Vlad Chiriches have been partnered together satisfactorily over more than a few games.

Perhaps it was no coincidence Spurs looked at their soundest from late October through to late January with these two together (the 5-1 loss to Manchester City the exception, but that game was as much to do with the team's failure to offer any sort of response to a brilliant display from the visitors that night).

Sherwood's next move here will be intriguing to say the least.

Vertonghen has come in for particular criticism. Comments relating to the pre-match demeanour of the Belgian and his teammates made on Sky Sports by Bleacher Report columnist and former Spur Glenn Hoddle—as noted by the Daily Mail's Paul Collins—have been jumped upon by many fans on social media. Hoddle's take was backed up by his own ex-team-mate Graham Roberts:

The particular focus on Vertonghen's mentality (at least on the part of supporters) is in part a byproduct of an interview Vertonghen gave in February—here via the London Evening Standard's Matthew Dunn—hinting at him considering leaving Spurs if they did not qualify for the Champions League

He has not been as confident, perhaps even as motivated a presence as last season, but he has not been alone in underwhelming at times.

The trouble for Tottenham right now is, even on their better days, one or more of their defenders are finding ways to undermine the team with mistakes. No matter their efforts further forward, thus continuing to happen will hurt them even more if not corrected.