Mauricio Pochettino got his tactics all wrong on the weekend. There is little point in lamenting the frailty of your players’ mentality if they aren’t set up correctly. Spurs played right into Liverpool’s hands and in doing so demonstrated a woeful lack of experience and maturity.
Tottenham was never going to challenge for the title again, but they have ambitions of doing so in the future; if they are to come anywhere near, they have to begin implementing tactical maturity.
Here are the areas where Pochettino got it wrong on Saturday evening.
Liverpool had been on a dismal run: it had appeared as though teams knew how to set up against them. Teams sat back, allowed Liverpool onto them and challenged Jurgen Klopp’s men to unlock a dense and organised defence. For the most part, it worked. Maro Silva’s Hull team being a perfect example of this, having beaten them 2-0 the weekend before.
So, for Tottenham to go to Anfield and employ a high-line was utterly bizarre. Granted, it’s how they play and it’s how Pochettino wants his teams to play – but the refusal to adapt in the biggest games is why they are still a way off mounting a title assault. If Pochettino had sacrificed his footballing ideology for just one game, Spurs might’ve walked away from Anfield with something more than a dejected slump of the shoulders.
Playing a high-line against one of the fastest attacks in the League – an attack that thrives on running in behind – was the reason the central reason they lost the game.
Ben Davies Abandoned
The Welsh international endured a torrid time under the harsh lights of Anfield. He was dragged everywhere by an inspired Sadio Mane. It was not all Davies’ fault, however.
Pochettino should have been shrewd enough to provide support for the left-back. The best left-backs in the world would be rendered helpless if left isolated against the ferocious pace of Mane.
Pochettino opted to play Son Heun-Ming on the left-hand side. The ill-disciplined Korean left Davies isolated and abandoned him to the relentless speed of Mane. He failed to track back and was too prone to coming inside and adopting the no.10 role. In his absence was a laughable stretch of space that set Mane’s tongue wagging – it was his dream scenario.
Mane’s effect could have been negated had Pochettino instructed Son to remain on the left-hand side and offer an added layer of protection for Davies; from Son’s meandering, it was clear he wasn’t told to do so.
What happened to 3-5-2?
Tottenham have been hamstrung by defensive injuries, but they have been playing in a 3-5-2 formation until recently with a lot of success. It provided a defensive solidity upon which the creativity of Erikson, Alli and Son could flourish.
It was another surprising failing from a manager who is normally tactically astute. One would think an away match at Anfield would not be the time to switch formations. Kevin Wimmer and Keiran Tripper were on the bench and would’ve made competent enough additions – even if Wimmer does have his embarrassing moments.
A Back five of Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Kevin Wimmer, Toby Alderweireld and Ben Davies would’ve afforded a greater deal of defensive solidity and would’ve stunted a Liverpool attack who feed on space.
Mauricio Pochettino is a fantastic young manager and will no doubt learn from these mistakes. But it is these glaring tactical omissions that mean Spurs will always be one step behind the league leaders, whoever they are.