Mauricio Pochettino has to reshuffle his midfield again after another illness
Tottenham’s manager spent part of Friday’s press conference discussing the absence of both Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama and expressing concerns about how long his remaining central midfielders could keep going in a busy and difficult run of fixtures. On that same day Eric Dier fell ill, leaving him unable to start against Liverpool, even if he was able to appear as a second-half substitute.
Dier is not the first Spurs player to be laid low with a lurgy – Ben Davies has just missed two matches with a bug and was only fit enough for a place on the bench this afternoon.
It was a poorly-timed problem for Pochettino and gave him a selection headache in midfield as well as at left-back this afternoon, given Danny Rose was also not fit enough to start.
Spurs’ manager is used to being without his top two left-backs by now – he has been without Rose and Davies in a few games this season – but his solution has varied.
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Against Swansea last month Heung-Min Son was asked to cover as the wing-back. Then, against Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus, Kieran Trippier filled in.
Against Bournemouth last Saturday Jan Vertonghen fulfilled that role, and the Belgian did so again against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
This time Pochettino opted for a fourth option – Serge Aurier lined up on the left flank, with Trippier starting in his usual role on the right.
Meanwhile, in the Dier-less midfield, Dele Alli played deeper than usual – on the left side of the diamond, with Harry Winks at the base and Heung-Min Son at the tip.
The system worked well and, once again, the absent players were not missed. Indeed, Son and Alli both scored, on top of Harry Kane’s double, while Alli seemed to enjoy himself again after looking frustrated in previous outings. A second-half nutmeg on Emre Can was particularly cheeky.
Once again, the absent players were not missed and Spurs’ squad passed another test. We now wait to see what side Pochettino will send out against West Ham in the League Cup on Wednesday, and whether a weakened line-up can beat the Irons.
2. Spurs take advantage of Liverpool’s shambolic defending
Tottenham conceded 16 fewer league goals than the Reds last season – a major reason why they finished two places above their rivals – and the north Londoners have since splashed out on Ajax centre-back Davinson Sanchez.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have failed to resolve their major weakness. Before kick-off today they had conceded 12 goals in their opening eight top-flight fixtures – more than twice as many as Tottenham (five).
Their Achilles heel was obvious once again here and was painfully exposed early on as they conceded two shambolic goals inside the opening 12 minutes. Dejan Lovren was at fault on both occasions and was embarrassingly substituted on the half-hour mark.
Even after that, Liverpool continued to shoot themselves in the foot and they conceded an avoidable third goal on the stroke of half time as Joel Matip headed a high ball out to Alli, who volleyed home from just inside the box.
Tottenham were also given a few problems at the back and Hugo Lloris earned his wages again, especially when he clawed a Philippe Coutinho strike out of the corner in the second half.
However, this encounter only served to underline the difference between the two sides’ defensive solidity, and show why Spurs will expect to finish above Jurgen Klopp’s side again In May.
3. Aurier struggles to deal with Mohamed Salah
While Liverpool were missing the injured Sadio Mane, they still had the pace of Salah on the right flank – and Pochettino’s decision to deploy Aurier at left wing-back looked an obvious attempt to counter the Egyptian’s speed.
Aurier struggled to shackle the Reds winger in the first half however, frequently being beaten for pace – most notably when Salah scored in the 24th minute, latching onto Jordan Henderson’s excellent through ball and rolling the ball past Lloris to halve the deficit.
Soon after, Salah reached the ball first and Aurier stupidly went to ground, allowing his opponent to head towards goal across the by-line and deliver a low cross.
It has become a frustrating theme with Aurier, who has also slid in rashly against West Ham and Real Madrid with costly consequences – a second yellow card in the first instance and the conceding of a penalty in the second.
While he again produced some skilful touches and some bright moments going forward, the Ivorian’s defending can certainly improve, and he still needs to learn to stay on his feet.
4. Long-standing record is broken as fans celebrate at Wembley again
The Tottenham fans who left the national stadium celebrating Spurs’ victory did so with a place in the record books to boot, for today’s attendance of 80,827 was the highest ever for a Premier League match.
It surpassed the crowd of 76,098 that watched Manchester United beat Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford in March 2007 – a match that also ended in a 4-1 home win.
There were cheers and applause when the figure was announced – another joyous moment at Wembley, which is increasingly feeling like home for Spurs and their supporters.
This was the Lilywhites’ fourth victory out of five home games under the arch – including a Champions League triumph over Borussia Dortmund – and that so-called ‘curse’ is feeling like little more than a memory.
Another success in Wednesday’s London derby over West Ham will only help to enhance Tottenham’s confidence at the national arena.
5. Tottenham move level with Manchester United ahead of Old Trafford showdown
At the start of the season, when Spurs dropped points against Chelsea and Burnley at home and Jose Mourinho’s side racked up successive 4-0 victories against West Ham and Swansea, there seemed a chance that the Manchester clubs were going to disappear over the horizon and leave the Lilywhites in a top-four fight.
But the Lilywhites have caught up with United, who have drawn with Liverpool and lost to Huddersfield in their last two league outings.
Pochettino’s side now sit level with the Red Devils on 20 points and, although they trail on goal difference, they are in the better form as the sides prepare to meet at Old Trafford next weekend.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City continue to look fearsomely good at the top of the league but Spurs are on a roll themselves, having just taken four points from a possible six against Real Madrid and Liverpool this week.
Next Saturday’s showdown could be telling in identifying whether Spurs or United are going to be City’s most dogged pursuers.
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