Spurs ladies hosted Liverpool in their first-ever home game in the FA WSL in a game that both teams were desperate not to lose after dropping points in their opening games of the season. It would be Spurs however that would walk away from this contest with a historic result, a 1-0 win that gave them their first-ever win in the Women’s Super League.

This tactical analysis will provide an overview of the tactics on display in this clash and identify where the game was won and lost for the respective teams. This analysis will also aim to determine which side, if either, should have any concerns for the immediate future and the rest of the season.

Lineups 

Both sides lined out in orthodox 4-2-3-1 formations which could easily transition into a 4-4-2 either in the attack of defence.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics

Liverpool fail to take the initiative 

A notable feature of Liverpool’s game plan was the lack of emphasis their side placed on counter-pressing upon losing possession. This was perhaps because of other certain characteristics in Liverpool’s game but it certainly had an impact on the match. In the early stages of the game, it helped the away side to keep a compact shape out of possession.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics
Liverpool’s shape was kept horizontally compact at certain times within the game, thus making it hard in these instances for Spurs to pass through the centre.

This forced a lot of Spurs’ early possession into their full-backs and wingers which compelled the game into an extremely vertical orientation. This stretched both teams to their limits and resulted in a flurry of set-pieces at the start of the game. After this chaotic opening period, Liverpool’s defensive shape began to sag and open and Spurs began to find spaces in between the opposition players.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics
With the lack of emphasis placed on a counter-press, Spurs can launch a quick counter-attack leaving four of Liverpool’s team behind them, stretching the game and giving it a chaotic tempo.

The early chaotic tempo of the game forced both sides to play in an extremely direct fashion as opposition players were easily left behind upon turnovers due to a lack of counter-pressing from both teams but especially in Liverpool’s case. In the above example, Spurs have no choice but to push the ball forward as quickly as possible considering four of Liverpool’s defence is now behind the play. This left both sides stretched as both sought to take advantage of the early pace in this game.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics
Once Liverpool became stretched, Spurs’ forward runners from midfield found it easy to find space inside the final third where they were free to receive the ball inside Liverpool’s shape.

The above image illustrates how Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 utilised forward runners from midfield to exploit Liverpool’s defence. With Rachel Furness pushing forward alongside her strike partner, Kit Graham, Spurs can occupy the Liverpool centre-backs (circled above in red) which kept the opposition’s fullbacks loyal and close to the backline allowing Spurs to stretch the Liverpool midfield. From this scenario, the positioning of Spurs’ fullbacks can be combined with forward runners from deep to exploit the stretched Liverpool line.

This did little to slow the tempo of the game as the Tottenham players began to exploit these gaps. As the spaces opened up for Spurs, ball-carriers in midfield became invaluable to the home side’s attacking play! This thus forced Liverpool to defend more conservatively as they began to drop off the Spurs backline in a bid to close the midfield space.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics
With Liverpool’s midfield dropping off, Spurs’ deep midfield players have plenty of space to receive, turn and drive with the ball. Liverpool’s midfield line should be reacting to this pressing trigger, a player with their back to the defender, by pushing forward and aiming to steal the ball in this dangerous area and not allow Spurs to play out.

This allowed Spurs’ holding midfielders the space to receive and turn on the ball in space which allowed the London team to continue playing in a direct style. It was because of this that the away side struggled to have a serious impact on the game. Liverpool’s players simply didn’t do enough to stop Spurs’ progression into their half and gave Spurs’ Rachel Furness plenty of opportunities to make forward runs into Liverpool’s penalty area, from which the penalty was awarded.

Quality chances few and far between

Outside of Furness’ late forward runs into the penalty area, both sides struggled to create frequent chances on goal during their possession. A large reason for this was due to the conservative deployment of both sides pair of fullbacks. Because both pairs of fullbacks preferred to remain deep even when their side was in possession, it generally meant each side struggled to create overloads in attacking scenarios.

FA WSL 2019/20: Spurs vs Liverpool Tactical Analysis tactics
Spurs’ attack in this instance is too narrow, thus allowing for Liverpool’s defensive shape to remain compact. In this instance, more effort should be made from the respective fullback to charge into the wider areas where there is space to attack (circled in white). This also leaves Spurs’ attackers outnumbered against the defence, forcing them to work harder to create a shooting opportunity.

It didn’t always hurt the respective side in possession from creating width in their attacks but it meant that should one of the wingers drift wide to stretch the opposition, then their fellow attackers would be left outnumbered in the centre. Each team thus was forced to rely upon the individual quality of their star players which led to a number of attacks breaking down during 1v1 battles or through the attempt of extravagant one-twos in front of the opponent’s penalty area.

Both sides used their fullbacks in rather outdated ways, keeping them anchored to their own backline in all stages of the game. If neither side planned to use their fullbacks to create overlapping opportunities on the flanks, then they should’ve used them in an inverted role. This would allow for the holding midfielders the security to push forward and contribute to the play in the final third. Without this support from the deeper positions, both sides were limited in the number of attackers they could commit to each attack and thus it made for an easier night for each sides goalkeeper.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a rather disappointing outing for both sides as it’s hard to argue a case for either team that they truly went out to give themselves every chance of winning the game. Spurs looked competitive however and ultimately did enough to earn their victory, especially after some sloppy mistakes from Liverpool handed the London side the penalty and the man advantage later on in the game.

Liverpool looked weak defensively but mostly due to their approach in this game. In order to earn their first win of the new season, this side will have to adopt a more positive mentality and actively take charge of the game. Both sides still ultimately have a long way to go before they can challenge the talent-rich sides in the form of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.



Artwork by @chapulana

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