Football Features

Van Dijk is ‘brilliantly cruel’: Five things learned from Liverpool 2-1 Spurs

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:45, 31 March 2019 | Updated: 8:14, 2 April 2019

In a breathless encounter at Anfield, Liverpool beat Spurs 2-1 to go top of the league.

The Reds are now two points ahead of City (although Pep Guardiola’s men have a game in-hand) and have ensured the title race will rumble on. What did we learn?

1. Full-back fiesta

Liverpool played a pretty glum midfield and one could have expected this to really be a problem when it comes to creativity, but of course having a hard-working midfield all willing to tuck in and defend allows you to throw your full-backs to bomb forward. And when your full-backs are as sensationally creative as Liverpool’s, this is a very good thing.

With Spurs playing a 3-5-2 formation, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were constantly causing problems for Spurs out wide with their ceaseless attacking runs and deadly crosses. Robertson in particular was an absolute nightmare for Spurs to deal with and it was to the surprise of nobody when the Scot created the opening goal with a stunning cross; his ninth assist of the season!

On the flip-side, as good as Liverpool’s full-backs were, Kieran Trippier absolutely rinsed for Spurs and Danny Rose wasn’t great either. Rose has been ravaged by injury and is no longer the dominant player he used to be whilst Trippier looks a far cry from the hero he was at the 2018 World Cup (and has done all season).

Spurs’ system was so bad that Mauricio Pochettino changed it to 4-4-2 at half-time, moving Danny Rose up to left-wing and putting Jan Vertonghen at left-back. This hugely stabilised Spurs because now it was much harder for Liverpool to get their full-backs in space and Danny Rose was unleashed as a pure attacking entity.

The pressure told with the goal, in the end, being created as Harry Kane beamed a beautiful crossfield ball to Kieran Trippier who pulled it out of the sky (full-backs!) the Englishman then turned his game around with a nice pass into Christian Eriksen who slipped a low pass for Lucas Moura, running free as Trent Alexander-Arnold (full-backs!) was caught flat-footed, to equalise for Spurs.

Pochettino’s made a couple more full-back twists, bringing on Son for Sánchez and putting Rose back in defence. The thing is he made that change mere moments before Spurs equalised. After that, with Liverpool looking to score again, Poch brought Ben Davies on and pushed Rose back up to left-wing, securing his flank defensively whilst making sure Rose could keep the counter active.

But of course, the match had to be decided by someone and of course a full-back played a huge role in that. Liverpool sent a brilliant cross into the back-post and Danny Rose (full-back) should have been able to deal with it, but he was caught sleeping and Mohamed Salah was free to head the ball at goal. Lloris’ save rebounded in off Toby Alderweireld and the match was thus decided. Oh, and who put the cross in? The cross that caused havoc and created the goal? Trent Alexander-Arnold (full-back!)

2. Harry Kane is a pass-master

What a man Harry Kane is, and what a player he has become. A top quality goalscorer for several years now, this season he has really developed his all-around game and taken things to the next level. His passing has always been good but right now it’s just ridiculous.

For England he played a couple of absurdly tasty passes but he topped them all today at Anfield when he launched what can only be described as an ICBM across the Anfield pitch. Having just be fouled he was on the floor, yet somehow saw Kieran Trippier’s run because he popped up, threw the ball down and nonchalantly launched it straight into his team-mates run. Two passes later and Spurs had a goal, and whilst he won’t get any love on the stat-sheet, that goal was only possible because Harry Kane is a pass-master.

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3. Alolsson

Alisson was bathed in all sorts of hyperbole when he signed for Liverpool, the hype emerged from seemingly nowhere. Whilst he is a top quality stopper, he’s not among the world’s top three and actually is prone to some hilariously wonky displays like today at Anfield.

Alisson was all over the shop against Spurs and the Reds were lucky his antics didn’t hand Spurs a goal. He was constantly misjudging the weight and flight of balls, dropping them or spill them as a result. Whenever Spurs threw the ball his way, he looked strangely nervous. He was also strangely inactive as Spurs rolled the ball across the face of his goal on their equaliser and eve his passing started getting wayward late on. He didn’t cost Liverpool a goal directly, but he wasn’t good.

4. Virgil van Dijk is brilliantly cruel

With the game tied at 1-1, things were on a knife-edge. The next goal was going prove pivotal in both the title and top four races. It was a tense situation, and then Spurs worked a gorgeous counter-attack moving the ball swiftly from the edge of their own box to a 2v1 attack where it was Moussa Sissoko and Heung-min Son running at Virgil van Dijk.

This should have been a goal for Spurs all ends up. A quick pass from Sissoko to Son would have sent the Korean through to shoot, or he could have slipped it back for a Sissoko tap-in. But Sissoko didn’t pass instantly and that allowed Virgil van Dijk to show just why he is the best (or second/third-best) centre-back in the world right now.

Van Dijk analysed the situation and realised that the most dangerous option would be for Son to have the ball, so instantly Van Dijk stepped away from Sissoko even though he had the ball. He blocked off an easy pass to Son (Sissoko still could have done it, but it would have been very tricky) and almost dared Sissoko to run through and score. It was brilliantly cruel, because it was Van Dijk admitting that he knew Sissoko would miss, and sure enough, Sissoko blazed his shot over the bar. Disaster averted for Liverpool, all because Van Dijk is a boss.

5. Spurs will decide the title race

Spurs fans have always wanted to hear “Spurs will decide the title race,” although they would have no doubt preferred it to be about them. Instead Spurs have just thrown away a draw against Liverpool, a draw that would have afforded Manchester City the chance to go three points clear of Liverpool midweek with their game in hand. And with City’s goal difference that would have effectively been a four point lead.

But no, Spurs welched. On the last day of March, they impacted the title race by losing. Now as we move into April, Spurs have a triple-header against Manchester City coming up. Two matches in the Champions League, one in the league. This could profoundly impact the way City’s season goes, and it’s within Spurs’ hands to capitulate and allow City a procession in the league and a Champions League semi-final, or perhaps devastate Pep Guardiola’s men and leave them with only a domestic cup double to chase.