Man of the match: Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur)
LONDON // The build-up was lengthy and the presentation protracted, but Jurgen Klopp finally got his tenure as Liverpool manager under way on Saturday. While the effervescent German has captivated both fans and media alike with his charm and charisma, his stewardship began in rather more insipid fashion as his new side shared the points with Tottenham Hotspur in a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane.
The consensus before the game was that, although Klopp’s appointment may have boosted Liverpool players’ fragile confidence, the former Borussia Dortmund coach was unlikely to have had time to impose his favoured style of play onto the squad.
Liverpool’s utterly dominant showing in the opening 25 minutes suggested otherwise, however, with the visitors spending most of the first quarter of the match camped inside Tottenham’s half.
Lining up in a 4-3-2-1 formation – Divock Origi led the line with Christian Benteke, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings all sidelined with injuries, with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho deployed ahead of a midfield trio of Emre Can, Lucas Leiva and James Milner – Liverpool imposed themselves on Mauricio Pochettino’s men, pressing high up the field and winning the ball back in advanced areas.
Liverpool’s closing-down was not simply a matter of individuals attempting to endear themselves to a new manager with their determination and work ethic but rather a well-organised, collective endeavour to regain possession and force the opposition to play longer, riskier passes forward.
Though such an approach is common in the modern game, Liverpool’s shape when hunting the ball was mightily impressive given that Klopp has only been in charge for a matter of days.
Another point of interest was the positioning of Coutinho and Lallana, who found pockets of space between the lines and acted almost as a pair of No 10s behind Origi. Both men were vital without the ball, pushing up high onto Tottenham’s back four and provoking a number of errors, with the tricky Lallana also posing a threat in possession.
Liverpool’s squeezing of the play up top was also replicated further back, with Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel aggressively sticking tight to Harry Kane even when the England international dropped deeper in the pitch.
Tottenham began to get back into the game towards the end of the opening period: Mousa Dembele’s dribbling and ball-carrying ability was key in breaking the first line of Liverpool pressure, while Christian Eriksen started to exert his influence in central zones further forward.
Liverpool wrestled back a degree of control after the interval but, as excellent as their off-the-ball work often was, there was a real lack of incision and cutting edge to their attacking efforts.
Coutinho, while a very talented young player, is more likely to smash a long-range shot into the top corner than control the flow of a game and consistently fashion opportunities for his teammates.
Origi, meanwhile, proved himself a willing runner but did not offer much with the ball, and Liverpool were generally a little flat and toothless in the final third. Indeed, while Tottenham were probably second-best between both boxes, they actually created the better goalscoring chances from open play, with Harry Kane and Clinton N’Jie both forcing good saves from Simon Mignolet.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives for Klopp to take from his debut in English football, particularly in the manner with which his Liverpool players responded to his pre-game instructions. A clean sheet would have been welcome, too, with Sakho and Skrtel looking solid in the heart of the backline and Lucas and Can disciplined and alert ahead of them in the engine room.
Question marks remain about whether this squad possesses the requisite quality for a top-four finish but, with key players still to return and an elite, title-winning manager now at the helm, Liverpool fans will already be much more confident of realising that ambition than they were just two short weeks ago.
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