Liverpool firmly put the defeat to Manchester City out of their system with an unexpectedly comfortable 3-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane, continuing their recent magnificent record against what had previously been a bogey team. For Spurs, the result offered a reality check after beginning the season with two impressive victories. What did we learn from Sunday’s encounter?
1. Raheem Sterling is a sublime talent – and he can still do even better
Sky Sports co-commentator Niall Quinn was adamant in his selection for man of the match, not hesitating in awarding the title to Raheem Sterling. The 19-year-old England international plundered his second goal of the season from close range early on, setting in motion a rewarding afternoon for Liverpool, and he was a headache for Tottenham throughout. Even in a league blessed with turbo-legged players, Sterling’s incredible pace stands out, as does his never-ending tenacity and desire to get on the ball.
Despite his magnificent performance at the Lane, the youngster came away from the game realising that he ought to have two goals beside his name rather than one. His skill in jinking past the Spurs defence in the second half to set himself up for what looked a simple finish was breathtaking, but Sterling lost focus when it came to pulling the trigger and ultimately poked the ball into the grateful grasp of Hugo Lloris. Fortunately he chose to pass up such a gilt-edged opportunity when the result was in the bag, although Brendan Rodgers will hope for a different conclusion the next time Sterling works such a promising goal chance for himself.
The development of the teenager over the last two seasons has been phenomenal, and there is evidence that Raheem Sterling can scale even loftier highs over the coming months.
2. Steven Gerrard’s influence could be on the wane
If there is one current player who owes nothing to Liverpool Football Club, it is their deified captain, one who seeks to play every game as it if was his first and last. While Steven Gerrard calmly tucked away his penalty at the beginning of the second half, maintainingg his hugely impressive conversion rate from the 12-yard spot, his overall influence on proceedings was minimal. The 34-year-old was surprisingly lackadaisical in possession at times, particularly in the first half, to the point where he was in the unusual position of being the target of Liverpool fans’ half-time criticism on Twitter.
Having made his name for rampaging forward to lash home splendid goals, Gerrard’s aging legs have made this feature a thing of the past, the boy from Huyton instead reliant on directing operations from a more restrained role in the midfield engine room. His ability to come up with a match-winning moment from nowhere makes him very difficult to drop, although with the possibility of 50-plus fixtures over the season and Liverpool’s enviable wealth of options in the middle of the park, Rodgers may be inclined to list his number 8 among the substitutes in certain games.
Remember that Jamie Carragher was once among the first names on the Liverpool team sheet before being gradually phased out in the winter of his career. This season could see the start of a similar process for Gerrard.
3. Liverpool’s full-back problem seems to have been addressed…
Even though Jon Flanagan emerged as a full-back of promise during Liverpool’s charge for the title last season, the wide defensive areas proved to be a problem position for the Reds in their unsuccessful bid to end the 24-year league drought. The left-back role has been particularly problematic ever since John Arne Riise departed in 2008, with many options being tried in the role with a success barometer ranging from ‘passable’ to ‘chronic’. The long-term injury to Jose Enrique and the impossibility to have faith in Glen Johnson prompted Rodgers to raid La Liga to address the full-back problem.
It may be early days to pass a definitive judgement on whether this box has been ticked, but the performances of Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno against Tottenham suggested that Liverpool should be considerably less vulnerable in the full-back positions this term. Manquillo looked tidy and competent in the games against Borussia Dortmund and Southampton before being strangely left out of the defeat to Man City. Johnson’s injury in that match led to a recall for the Spaniard at White Hart Lane and he picked up where he left off, covering his position effectively and making some crucial interceptions. His intelligence with and without the ball bodes well for Liverpool.
Moreno would have gone to bed on Monday night with a heavy conscience after gifting Man City their opening goal, but he more than made up for it at the weekend. The manner in which he won the ball from Andros Townsend before rampaging up the left wing and beautifully finding the far corner of Hugo Lloris’ net left Liverpool fans drooling. It was by no means Moreno’s sole contribution, either, as he also carried out his defensive duties to admirable effect when the game was still in the balance. It was good to see Enrique making a brief comeback, although should Moreno continue in the same vein, the elder of the Spanish left-backs will have to be prepared to observe from the bench on a regular basis.
4. Liverpool still look worrying in the centre of defence
Despite a welcome clean sheet, Liverpool’s first in the league since, ironically, they hammered Spurs at Anfield at the end of March, there were still moments of anxiety for the Reds at the back. Nacer Chadli should have equalised midway through the first half when he was gifted possession and surged through the heart of Liverpool’s defence, only for Simon Mignolet to pull off a magnificent save.
Dejan Lovren was occasionally slack in possession, although on a couple of occasions he tracked back excellently to atone for his errors, while Mamadou Sakho looks as uncomfortable on the ball as ever. Rodgers will know that a more potent team than Tottenham would have punished Liverpool – look at how Man City ruthlessly gobbled up the chances that came their way last week – and even with all the summer transfer activity, there exists a sense that the Reds could do with another no-nonsense centre-half.
There were also glimpses of a potentially suicidal pass-a-thon within 30 yards of their own goal, something that is all too frequent with Liverpool under Rodgers. The passing game looks brilliant when carried off effectively and can be put to lethal effect, but taking liberties in your own third of the field is a high-risk strategy that the better teams can exploit to make you look very foolish. Ask Kolo Toure about it after his ‘assist’ at West Brom last season.
5. Tottenham continue to be easy pickings for the top sides
In six games against the top three in 2013/14, Tottenham drew one and lost five. The cumulative score from that quintet of defeats to Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea was 1-24, a statistic that crippled their prospects of a Champions League finish. Another change of manager has, initially, not brought about a change in fortunes against the pick of the Premier League bunch.
Spurs had started the season in impressive fashion under Mauricio Pochettino, showing admirable resolve to deliver a killer blow to West Ham in stoppage time before destroying QPR at White Hart Lane, but in their first big test of the season, Tottenham came up well short. Players like Chadli, Emmanuel Adebayor, Erik Dier and Nabil Bentaleb can be very impressive on their day, but none of them will be jubilant about their displays against Liverpool. Even Christian Eriksen was worryingly quiet before he was called ashore prematurely by Pochettino, who will hope that these regular insipid displays against title-chasing teams will not be a habit again in 2014/15.
In the aftermath of the 4-0 hammering by Chelsea in March, then-manager Tim Sherwood blasted his Tottenham players for being “too nice to each other” and lacking in character. Judging by Spurs’ weekend display, he may have been on to something with those scathing remarks.
What do you think were the biggest issues to arise from Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat of Tottenham in the Premier League at the weekend? Has Brendan Rodger’s side got what it takes to challenge for the title? Can Mauricio Pochettino lead his team into the Champions League qualification positions? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .