Liverpool trounced Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 at White Hart Lane on Sunday to affirm their Premier League title credentials in style. They may have gone down to Manchester City last Monday with a bit of a whimper, but Brendan Rodgers' men looked fresh and improved in a new formation.
How did this game play out from a tactical perspective?
Formations and XIs
Spurs retained the 4-2-3-1 seen throughout the season so far and went unchanged from the side that thrashed Queens Park Rangers last Sunday. That meant Younes Kaboul held off Federico Fazio in defence and Nacer Chadli continued in midfield.
Liverpool brought forth the diamond formation we know and love, handing a start to Mario Balotelli up alongside Daniel Sturridge. Alberto Moreno was fit to play at left-back and Javier Manquillo started on the right, while Mamadou Sakho came in to partner with Dejan Lovren in the centre.
Early Goal Changes the Script
As we previewed ahead of the fixture, the midfield battle early on was intense, lively and very physical.
Both sides value pressing as a method of winning the ball back, and both sets of central midfielders went at it tooth and nail in the opening 10 minutes. The scrap was eye-popping with feet flying in at every opportunity and clipped heels were common.
High press vs High press. So many possibilities.— Janusz Michallik (@JanuszESPN) August 31, 2014
Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue looked to have established an early upper-hand, but then a quick-counterattacking goal from Liverpool changed the entire script of the game.
The goal itself was so very typical of Liverpool in a diamond, and it showcased the formation's greatest strength: Being able to spring runners into space and between the lines.
Jordan Henderson's run as the spare man wasn't tracked, Eric Dier lost Raheem Sterling at the far post and the Englishman tapped home.
It was the first Henderson release of the game and it resulted in a goal; it left Spurs chasing the game against the Reds in a diamond, which is one of the worst prospects in football to face.
Lovren trod the thin line between excellent and reckless all game long in defence, but his brilliance/ridiculousness aside, Liverpool looked a superb, balanced outfit.
The distances between the lines in the formation were equal and correct, with Sterling, playing inside as a No. 10 at the tip of the diamond, linking play between the midfield three and attacking two.
Balotelli drew markers to him, Sturridge split wide and enjoyed freedom, Sterling tore the pitch (and the opposition) to pieces and Henderson buccaneered forward with ease.
The Liverpool that smashed Manchester United to pieces last season at Old Trafford returned, with runs between the lines and into space the key, obvious feature.
Spurs too Narrow
For all of Liverpool's positive play, Spurs were naive and one-dimensional.
Another stat from Pochettino's side last season: Saints won just the 1 game in which the opposition also scored... Scarily one dimensional— Le Football Est Part (@DictatePlay) August 31, 2014
They failed to use the wide areas for most of the game, failed to get around the Reds' formation and only reluctantly created width using full-backs. The first time they actually pushed on down the outside was so reluctant and laboured, Danny Rose was caught offside.
Liverpool eventually settled into a deep, narrow block and defended the central zones, relying on Christian Eriksen to slow play down too much and crowding Emmanuel Adebayor out.
At no point did Manquillo or Moreno feel stretched until Andros Townsend came on, but then, unbelievably, Moreno robbed him, surged 60 yards and scored a third.
The moment Mauricio Pochettino tried to change his side's skin and take a risk, that happened. Incredible.
Spurs were dreadful and Liverpool incredible, with the result a 3-0 drubbing that could have been much more. Much of the talk focuses on whether or not the penalty should have been given, as had Joe Allen been called up for diving he'd have been sent off, but Dier's naivety cost Spurs there.
Tactically, Pochettino was schooled yet again by Rodgers. Does anyone remember the Reds' 3-0 win at St. Mary's Stadium last season, with Sterling at the point of a midfield diamond?