A Younes Kaboul own goal and goals from Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson handed Liverpool an impressive 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday, which saw the Reds climb back to the top of the Premier League once again.
Another flying start by Brendan Rodgers’ side saw Raheem Sterling combine well with Glen Johnson down the Liverpool right, forcing Kaboul to turn the ball into his own net. Suarez’s excellent left-footed finish after putting Michael Dawson under pressure deservedly doubled the Reds’ lead on 25 minutes.
Coutinho’s excellent low drive from range further extended the hosts’ dominance on 55 minutes, before Henderson’s free kick from the left flank evaded everyone in the Spurs box and sealed another Liverpool rout over Tottenham, following their five-goal demolition job at White Hart Lane back in December.
Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s excellent win. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts below.
Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds
Take your pick from two well-worn cliches in the sports world: “The best defence is offence” or “Defence wins championships.”
Whichever your preference—and while Sunday’s result by no means confirmed anything in terms of the Premier League title race just yet—Liverpool showed both offensive drive and defensive steel against Tottenham, much like the reverse fixture in December.
Jon Flanagan bounced back from a quiet couple of weeks with a performance full of heart, commitment and excellently timed tackles, while Glen Johnson put in an admirable defensive shift, albeit against a toothless Spurs left.
Simon Mignolet was on hand to make a few crucial but routine stops—including an excellent left-handed parry of Christian Eriksen’s deflected shot in the dying minutes—to keep what was a rare clean sheet for Liverpool this season.
Martin Skrtel had one of his almost flawless performances featuring a few blockbuster last-ditch blocks. Even Daniel Agger, normally in the “cool, calm and collected” school of defending, saw fit to put in a few flying blocks of his own.
The clean defensive performance, which was admittedly due to a disappointing Spurs display, will be one of the key points stressed by Brendan Rodgers to replicate in the end-of-season run-in.
Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League
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But enough about the defence: Besides keeping a second successive clean sheet against Tottenham this season, Liverpool have again hit four goals with no reply in the Premier League this season, making it 11 matches this season where they have scored at least four goals.
Even more encouraging for both Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike will be Glen Johnson’s return to fitness—and, it seems, to a level almost touching his flying best. It was Johnson’s run behind the Spurs defence that led to Liverpool’s early opening goal and one that fully illustrated his valuable contributions to the Reds attack.
And in reverting to his tried and trusted 4-3-3, Brendan Rodgers started Raheem Sterling on the right, which paid dividends both in the final third and also on the defensive end. The young winger, who by now must surely be on the plane to Brazil this summer, was a constant menace to the Tottenham defence, while a physical duel with Mousa Dembele before his substitution—which he won—was a sign of his growing confidence and maturity.
Johnson’s dovetailing with Sterling down the right made it once again Liverpool’s preferred attacking outlet, even while the hapless Kyle Naughton started as right-back on the opposite side of the pitch.
Pablo Zabaleta and Seamus Coleman, step aside—if Johnson and Sterling keep up their performances on both ends of the pitch, they’ll comfortably win any award for the Premier League’s best right flank.
Familiarity Breeds Success
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When Mamadou Sakho’s return from injury was announced, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for wanting him to go straight back into the starting XI, with Daniel Agger not being at his domineering best this season.
When Lucas made a first-team comeback as well, many wanted him to return as the midfield anchor, releasing Steven Gerrard of his holding and controlling duties at the base of the Reds midfield and allowing the captain to push further up the park.
Instead, Rodgers has chosen to stick by and large with a starting lineup that has served him so well, if not entirely in defensive solidity then at least in results, only sacrificing Joe Allen for Sterling.
Besides the Allen/Sterling change, this was the same lineup that started Liverpool’s previous few victories, allowing them to have built up a winning momentum and a growing sense of confidence, which was increasingly apparent as the match wore on.
In sticking with a winning team, despite having other strong contenders on the bench, Rodgers has gone with familiarity, both as a sign of his confidence in his team and as a reward to those players who have served him well amidst the previous injury problems.
Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark
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It was the Allen/Sterling change, though, that reflected a return to the 4-3-3 formation that had been used to such excellent effect at times this season. (Lest we forget, the 4-4-2 diamond was, of course, a formation ushered in partly out of desperation.)
Liverpool played like they’d never even thought about veering away from their original 4-3-3, such was the fluency in their build-up and possession play, while Coutinho once again impressed as the most advanced member of the midfield trio.
Not that they played the entire match as a 4-3-3, though: Rodgers’ two substitutions between the 64th and 70th minutes meant that Allen and Lucas did come on to replace Coutinho and Gerrard, and Sterling was pushed back into the middle to revert to the 4-4-2 diamond.
In doing so, the home side displayed yet another trait it’s developed this season: a tactical flexibility that has allowed it to approach different opponents in different ways.
The Liverpool players have become so comfortable with each other and with Rodgers’ possession-based attacking philosophy that they’ve taken every formation change almost like a duck to water, and this can only bode well for the rest of their title-chasing season.
And it paid off spectacularly.
Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo
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Spare a thought for Tottenham Hotspur, as not only did their players not seem to have a game plan in mind, but their head coach also seemed to have lost his fiery passion for which he’s been so famous.
A 60th-minute double substitution aside, Tim Sherwood didn’t appear to take any initiative to improve his side’s fortunes, and he cut a lone figure in the Spurs director’s box as the match wilted away from a Tottenham point of view.
According to BBC Sport, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal is reportedly on his way to White Hart Lane as Spurs’ new manager after this summer’s World Cup. Judging from Sherwood’s demeanor, he might well feel like a dead man walking, with his opportunity to impress at the Spurs helm limited in the end to less than a full season.
In the meantime, however, a host of Tottenham players have been frozen out—the likes of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho have been left out in favor of the youngster Nabil Bentaleb—and the lack of cohesion on the Anfield pitch on Sunday will have made for some jarring watching for Spurs fans.
Having spent in excess of £100 million in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure, Tottenham were supposed to mount at least a strong challenge for fourth. Instead, they’ve lost all their league matches against the Premier League top four this season (barring a home draw against Chelsea in late September) and their season is well and truly unraveling.
Plenty of work to be done in the summer.
It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now
By notching their 22nd win of the Premier League season, Liverpool return to the top of the table in emphatic fashion, two points above Chelsea after the Blues’ shocking loss at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
While Manchester City have two games in hand and would yet reclaim the top spot with two wins out of two, the reality remains that Liverpool’s fortunes for the season are entirely in their own hands now.
From this point forward, if the Reds win all six of the remaining fixtures on their schedule, they will be crowned Premier League champions since both Chelsea and City have yet to visit Anfield.
For the first time in many a season, Liverpool only have themselves to worry about, without having to hope for rivals dropping points before they can look to capitalize.
Brendan Rodgers will know that this is a key advantage for his team in the run-in, but as usual, he will be stressing the need to keep calm and focus on the next game.
Bring on West Ham United.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.