World Football

Tottenham vs. Liverpool: Pressing Battle in Midfield the Tactical Area to Watch

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16:  Mauricio Pochettino the Tottenham Hotspur manager talks with Etienne Capoue during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur at Boleyn Ground on August 16, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterAugust 30, 2014

They say there's no rest for the wicked, and less than a week after facing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool must travel to north London to take on an in-form Tottenham Hotspur side.

Mauricio Pochettino's men have won all four of their games so far—two Premier League; two Europa League—and are firmly on a roll. New signings are bedding in, the manager's philosophy is taking shape and players are responding to the new regime.

Can the Reds topple Spurs like they did last year, or will fortunes reverse this time around? 


Spurs Setup

Tottenham's ridiculously deep squad was illustrated midweek, with only Hugo Lloris and Younes Kaboul playing against both Queens Park Rangers (Sunday) and AEL Limassol (Thursday).

The rest all sat out, paving the way for as many as nine changes ahead of the Liverpool match with a possible 10th in the form of Federico Fazio.

Projected Spurs XI (4-2-3-1).
Projected Spurs XI (4-2-3-1).@stighefootball

The formation should continue as 4-2-3-1, with Emmanuel Adebayor leading the line and an Erik Lamela/Christian Eriksen combination tormenting in midfield.

Andros Townsend, Ben Davies, Kyle Naughton, Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and Vlad Chiriches are all serious long-shots to start.


Liverpool Setup

The big decision for Brendan Rodgers is whether or not to include new signing Mario Balotelli from the start.

Possible Liverpool 4-4-2 Diamond.
Possible Liverpool 4-4-2 Diamond.@stighefootball

The Italian has completed a week of training with the Anfield club and has played in the Premier League before, so if Rodgers believes he's fit, he should have no issues slotting in.

If so, it's very likely we see a 4-4-2 diamond introduced, placing Steven Gerrard at the base, Raheem Sterling at the tip and Balotelli up top alongside the incumbent Daniel Sturridge.

Possible Liverpool 4-3-3.
Possible Liverpool 4-3-3.@stighefootball

If not, it's a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, once again with Sturridge spearheading the line.


Key Area 1: Midfield Battle

Both sides like to press and harry, and creating high turnovers in midfield could become key to carving out clear-cut opportunities. 

Spurs were exceptional in this area against Queens Park Rangers; confirm they had 65 percent possession of the ball, yet Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville also revealed on Monday Night Football that they covered more ground and recorded more sprints as well.

This tells you that either QPR are lethargic or Spurs are subscribing to Mauricio Pochettino's intense style of play. The Lilywhites managed 24 tackles overall, with Eriksen and Lamela tallying three each.

Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb do the dirty work and dominate the middle, allowing others to nip in, surround the ballplayer and dispossess him. Liverpool are renowned for a nice, quick approach to defending as well, and it should make for an interesting physical battle in there.

It's unlikely, but Brendan Rodgers should strongly consider playing Emre Can from the start to level the battle—if he's not careful we could have another Victor Wanyama situation here.


Key Area 2: Sturridge the Out-Ball

Tottenham's match against Queens Park Rangers was as easy as they come, so more stock can be drawn from their opening-day victory over West Ham United despite it ending 10 versus 10.

What did become clear there is if ballplaying sides can survive the midfield press in central zones, they can expose Spurs' full-backs one-on-one with wingers.

Liverpool's diamond wouldn't lend itself to this strategy, but Sturridge and Sterling will both have license to drift (with Balotelli the focal point) and split wide to provide an out-ball.

Furthermore, and with Balotelli in, Sturridge can split wide while the Reds are defending and act as the first out-ball from defence. In 2013-14 he'd often sit touchline-wide and collect Martin Skrtel's punt out of the box, turn and hare down the field with the ball at his feet.

Sturridge versus Danny Rose in these circumstances would be X-rated at times.


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