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Thursday 23 January 2020

John Aldridge: 'Jose Mourinho exposed a chink in Liverpool's armour - and it could trip them up this season'

Soccer Football - Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Britain - January 11, 2020 Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho reacts REUTERS/Dylan Martinez EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or
Soccer Football - Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Britain - January 11, 2020 Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho reacts REUTERS/Dylan Martinez EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

John Aldridge

SO how do you stop the Liverpool dream team?

It’s a question no Premier League team has answered so far this season and it’s a dilemma I would not want to try and solve if I was sat in a dug-out opposite Jurgen Klopp.

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To have reached this point in the season dropping just two points is quite an unbelievable statistic and when you consider that Liverpool have not even been at their best this season, it makes their remarkable record all the more impressive.

How are they doing it? There are a variety of reasons why Liverpool appear to be invincible right now and the first is the blind fear all their opponents (including Manchester City) now have when they go into a game against the Premier League leaders.

Liverpool had a fear factor that allowed them to frighten rivals into submission in the 1970s and 80s, especially at Anfield, where you could see the opposition trembling as the crowd reminded them what they were up against.

Manchester United then inherited that mantle as Alex Ferguson’s side dominated English football and there have been moments when Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have had an aura that was too much for the opposition to handle.

Now Liverpool are in that position and it means the first task for any rival manager is to try and mask that fear before they can start thinking about ways to stop a team that saw their belief levels go to ridiculous heights after they won the Champions League last June.

What we saw in Saturday’s game between Tottenham and Liverpool was an example of a manager who has a plan that very nearly worked against Klopp’s side, even if it was a negative plan that has become the norm when Jose Mourinho is the architect.

Mourinho has got under the skin of Liverpool down the years with tactics that can be politely described as ‘anti-football’, but we have seen that they can be effective if the key moments in a game go his way.

He set up his Tottenham side on Saturday in what was effectively a 4-6-0 formation, with the plan based around hitting Liverpool on the break and trying to disrupt their attacking system.

He put fast players in wide positions to try and restrict the attacking threat of Liverpool full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold and the plan worked, as the two chief attacking threats were dramatically diluted.

With so many men behind the ball, it can be hard to break down a team that are restricting your width, yet Liverpool have found ways to win matches against teams deploying these tactics and that is the primary reason why they are so far ahead at the top of the table.

In addition, Liverpool’s midfield is under-rated and once Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum started bossing that area of the field in the first half against Tottenham, you could sense the opposition were being rocked onto the ropes.

The final piece of the plan to stopping Liverpool is neutralising their front three and that’s where every club has failed so far. Klopp’s side have scored goals in every Premier League game so far this season.

If Mohamed Salah has an off-day, Sadio Mane has stepped up to the mark and on Saturday, it was Roberto Firmino firing the dagger through Tottenham hearts with the winning goal.

Spurs could have snatched an equaliser with the clear-cut chances they created in the second half and while that would have been a victory for negative football, it showed that there is a way to tackle Liverpool and give them something to think about – if you are not terrified by them and have a plan to stop them.

Any side taking on this Liverpool team in a straight battle of passing football has come out second best for the last two years and their demolition of Manchester City in the Champions League a couple of years ago was crucial in confirming that they are a team that can take the best apart when they are on fire.

Last season’s incredible Champions League semi-final comeback against Barcelona added to that aura and now they have pieced together this incredible record in their opening 21 Premier League matches that may never be matched.

I still see them dropping points between now and the end of the season, but this team is so good that it’s hard to see them losing too many games and draws may be the best the opposition can hope for.

When you are a top team heading into a game with such limited ambition, it really does impact your hopes of getting a positive result and that’s the scenario Manchester United will face when they go to Anfield on Sunday.



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