There was no late away win for Tottenham, and for the first time in a long while, Spurs’ homegrown striker Harry Kane could not save his side. For Liverpool, this was the perfect response to the high-octane yet slightly dull Merseyside derby on Saturday. The Reds might have conceded their first goals in five games, but what was important was that, despite being pegged back twice, the team managed to find a late winner and grind out the result at the end.
Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers will be pleased to see his side come within a point of Spurs, in the epic race for the last two spots in the top four. With almost all of the past weekend’s results going against his side, Rodgers knew he had to find a victory against the league’s other in-form side, and this was the time he got the major tactical decisions right.
Tactical Victory For Rodgers
Rodgers kept faith with young Jordon Ibe after his impressive performance in the dour draw at Everton, and Ibe continues to repay that faith with another lively, direct performance. The young English winger even played his part for the winning goal, and defended well against Danny Rose, mostly utilising his pace to stay stride-for-stride with the Spurs left-back. The manager’s second decision was to find a replacement for the injured Raheem Sterling in the Reds’ front three. With Daniel Sturridge returning, Rodgers chose Lazar Markovic over Adam Lallana in the two behind Sturridge. The Serb showed some of his Benfica form with several driving runs forward and looked confident in possession. Markovic’s first goal at Anfield would almost certainly give his confidence a further boost. Ibe’s recent good form could see Markovic facing a fight at right wing-back, though the Serb will look to solidify a place in his favoured position further afield.
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When Markovic tired in the second half, Rodgers sensibly called upon Lallana, and the former Southampton man duly delivered with a vital assist for the winning goal. Lallana still looks to be working his way back to fitness (again) and form, and his short but important cameo could see him start in the FA Cup this weekend. Rodgers continued his responsible handling of the recently returned Sturridge by replacing him in the 73rd minute, with headline-maker Mario Balotelli returning to the side since his last substitute appearance in the League Cup semifinals. The Italian’s seemingly improved workrate would have pleased Rodgers, and the manager’s continued faith in him hopefully looks to be starting to pay off with Balotelli’s first league goal for the club.
Rodgers will be pleased that all of his tactical switches paid off, with one of the most difficult probably the withdrawal of skipper Steven Gerrard, due to a hamstring injury. Would it be Joe Allen, or would Emre Can be moved forward? Fortunately for Rodgers, and pleasingly for Reds fans, the manager chose the latter, and turned to Dejan Lovren to take Can’s place at right centre-back. The German transitioned seamlessly into midfield, and drove forward with the ball at every opportunity, while shoring up the midfield area – where admittedly Gerrard was struggling with the likes of Christian Eriksen and Moussa Dembele to deal with. Even Lovren put in a decent shift from the bench, defending the lead well towards the end.
The continued recent return to form of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet would have undoubtedly further comforted Rodgers. The Belgian shot-stopper pulled off a brilliant save from Erik Lamela’s powerful effort, and even the save from Eriksen’s free-kick that led to Spurs’ second equaliser was impressive. Overall, Mignolet could not be blamed for either of Spurs’ goals.
Upwards & Onward For The Reds?
Not only did Sturridge get more game-time under his belt, he looked to use his pace with every opportunity – a good, clear sign that his muscle problems are behind him. Sturridge was unlucky to have not scored with his attempts, but did look dangerous despite still being a little rusty. With Sturridge’s forward team-mate finally having the burden of scoring a league goal lifted off his shoulders, Rodgers will hope the duo of Sturridge and Balotelli – whoever starts or whether as a two – will provide his side with the firepower that has been sorely missed in the past two months. This should shift the burden off Sterling, and hopefully this forward trio will start contributing more goals for a side creating so many chances to reap the benefits from.
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Liverpool fans will be pleased that their side overcame some poor refereeing for Spurs’ second equaliser – initially the outstanding tackle from Gerrard on Kane, and subsequently the latter being offside before his cut-back for Dembele’s goal – to come away with the three points. February is going to be the key month for the Reds in their fight for top four, having to face Southampton away as well as Manchester City at Anfield. Much hope will also ride on this weekend’s FA Cup tie at Selhurst Park, where Rodgers will desperately want his side to exorcise two demons – the devastating 3-3 draw last season and this season’s 1-3 reversal.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Darren C.