Football

Spurs and Liverpool suppressed by tactical straight jackets

Spurs held twice at home this season. (©GettyImages)
Spurs held twice at home this season. (©GettyImages).

Three games into the new Premier League campaign, and it's far too early to be talking about a crisis at any club throughout the country, but that doesn't mean that alarm bells aren't already ringing for fans of Tottenham or Liverpool.

Both under the stewardship of new management, the pre-season optimism that came with the respective appointments of Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, has quickly turned to concern, as their new-look sides continue to make a stuttering start to 2012/13.

With just three points between them, and not a single victory to boast from four home fixtures, it's understandable why the tremors of panic are starting to take place at White Hart Lane and Anfield.

Opening day defeats to Newcastle United and West Brom were begrudgingly accepted by Spurs and Liverpool, even if the Reds had extra motivation to prove that the sacking of former assistant Steve Clarke - now employed as Baggies boss - was the right decision.

Rodgers' side followed that emphatic 3-0 loss up with an impressive performance against reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, but could only manage a 2-2 draw after an unforced error at the back by Martin Skrtel gifted Carlos Tevez a late equaliser.

Meanwhile, Tottenham, for all their dominance at home to West Brom, wasted a hatful of chances before taking a narrow one-goal lead, only to concede in the final minutes, ending in a frustrating 1-1 draw. A carbon copy result came after, this time against Norwich City. Spurs, again, took a second-half lead, only to be pegged back by the Canaries in the closing stages.

Liverpool looked to build on the positives taken from the City clash against Arsenal, but despite dominating possession for large periods, were comfortably beaten by Arsene Wenger's side, rolled over 2-0 at Anfield.

The biggest problem currently facing the two clubs, is that both managers are determined to implement a new system, far removed from what the players they've inherited are used to playing before.

Rodgers is renowned for his tiki taka approach, a style characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels and maintaining possession. It moves away from the traditional thinking of formations in football, to a concept derived from zonal play - with the Liverpool boss dividing the field into eight zones, each consisting of different duties or roles.

The system worked wonders for Rodgers at Swansea, the side from New South Wales took the Premier League by storm last season. But, it is not something that can be integrated with immediate results, and like all things new, there has to be a period of transition.

An initial worry is the way in which established first-team stars like Daniel Agger and Skrtel, have struggled to acclimatise to the new set-up. The centre-back partnership, formerly perceived as one of the strongest in the Premier League, looks to be a shell of its former self, as both players attempt to play an unnatural game which involves passing out from the back.

Other areas for concern would be Steven Gerrard's shrinking presence in the Liverpool midfield. The club captain has not played well once yet this season, and it's no coincidence that the England international, renowned for his raking balls and box-to-box displays, has struggled to find his rhythm in the newly intricate side.

The decision to let £35million club-record signing Andy Carroll leave Anfield also appears a strange decision. The 6ft 3in battering ram might not fit the stereotypical mould of what Rodgers looks for in a striker, but the fact that the Northern Irishman failed to replace him, after a deadline day deal for Clint Dempsey fell through, leaves Liverpool particularly short in attack.

Dempsey opted instead to join Tottenham after the north London club met Fulham's valuation of the American forward, on a busy final day in the transfer market for Villas-Boas. Having already signed Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jan Vertonghen, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mousa Dembele, the Portuguese tactician's squad had started to take shape when Dempsey was joined by Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris at the final hour.

Spurs lost Luka Modric to Real Madrid, and saw club captain Ledley King forced into retirement, but the additions made showed the club's intentions for a renewed push towards the Champions League places this year. If they are to realise their goal, then Spurs cannot afford to keep dropping points against lesser sides, particularly at home.

Expectation levels are high at White Hart Lane, so Villas-Boas cannot afford to start slowly, but already his players look suffocated by the tactical straight jacket he deploys his teams. If he insists on playing with a lone striker - even at home - then Adebayor must lead the line ahead of Jermain Defoe, with more emphasis placed on the supporting three forwards, which could be any combination of Aaron Lennon, Sigurdsson, Dempsey, or Gareth Bale.

Playing with two defensive midfielders is overly negative - like Spurs did with Sandro and Jake Livermore against Norwich on Saturday - Dembele would have been a much more creative option, and had he played the full 90minutes, it's likely the hosts would have found a breakthrough sooner and gone on to win the game.

Comparing the free-flowing, goalscoring Tottenham side of last season under Harry Redknapp, to the way that Spurs have lined up under Villas-Boas this year, there is a sense that players have been suppressed by their defensive responsibilities, holding back from all-out attack.

Football remains a results-driven business, and whilst it's not inconceivable for Spurs or Liverpool to win in this way, the issue awaiting both Rodgers and Villas-Boas, is they may not be given enough time to prove themselves right.

Topics:
Tottenham Hotspur
Football
Premier League
Liverpool

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