Tottenham’s defeat at Liverpool shows Sherwood still has lots to learn
12:14 31 March 2014
Tottenham correspondent Ben Pearce analyses yesterday’s 4-0 defeat at Anfield.
When Tim Sherwood was asked why he spent the second half of yesterday’s game watching from the directors’ box, he replied: “I learn a lot more about my team by sitting up there.
“I didn’t think that I could influence it coming down, there was too much of a gap between the two teams, and it was just about me learning, using that time for the future and to see what needs to be addressed – and I learnt a lot up there.”
If and when Sherwood sits down with chairman Daniel Levy at the end of the season and explains why he should be allowed to keep planning for the future, he would be well advised to avoid phrases like “I’m learning”.
After all, Andre Villas-Boas was also learning about his new-look team when he was sacked four months into the season.
Levy apparently felt the Portuguese was not learning quickly enough and, in fairness, there were few signs of improvement – which was underlined in his final game in charge, the 5-0 home defeat against Liverpool.
But, more than three months on, the same accusation can be levelled at Sherwood, who is on thin ice because he currently cannot claim to have done a much better job than his predecessor.
Villas-Boas took 27 points from his 16 Premier League games this season, while Sherwood has collected 29 points from the same number of top-flight matches.
Villas-Boas picked up one point from a possible 12 against the current top four sides, with an aggregate score of 13-1. Sherwood has lost all four of his clashes with the top flight’s elite, with an aggregate score of 14-1.
The gap is not getting any smaller. Like under Villas-Boas, there are occasional signs of progress – such as the spirited comeback against Southampton, when much was made of the interplay between Christian Eriksen and Roberto Soldado and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s impact in central midfield.
However, once again, a meeting with a top-four side has delivered a damning indictment of where Spurs are in relation to their rivals. As Sherwood said, “we look like we’re a long way away.”
Of course, the players must take a lot of the blame for that. They have shot themselves in the foot with costly errors time and again. Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Walker made inexplicable individual mistakes at Chelsea recently, and the defending yesterday was also comical at times.
Michael Dawson’s first contribution after replacing the injured Vertonghen was to play Younes Kaboul into trouble, gifting Luis Suarez the second goal – and Kaboul then lost the ball to Raheem Sterling on the edge of his own box, resulting in a Suarez header that forced a magnificent save from Hugo Lloris.
However, the head coach also has plenty of questions to answer when it comes to how he prepares his players.
The Lilywhites have often started slowly this season, and it has only got worse in their last three league games.
Arsenal took the lead inside two minutes at the Lane, and Southampton were 2-0 up after half an hour in north London last Sunday.
Yesterday, there were warning signs before kick-off. Glenn Hoddle, who was working as a Sky Sports pundit, said: “I didn’t like them in the tunnel. Vertonghen was leaning against the wall with two hands behind his back. They were too relaxed, too flimsy, chatting away, coming here with no steel.”
There was more of the same when they emerged onto the pitch. Spurs have often got into a huddle before the kick-off, and captain Dawson can be seen shouting and clapping his hands to focus his troops.
There was none of that yesterday. Dawson was on the bench and the players gathered in a loose circle, taking in the sights as the Anfield crowd roared its rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Vertonghen looked like he was on a stadium tour.
Being relaxed and unflappable can certainly be an asset, but it can also look like a lack of intensity and desire. And, when Vertonghen failed to clear Glen Johnson’s cross at the near post less than two minutes into the match, Kaboul bundled the ball into his own net and Spurs had suffered yet another nightmare start.
Again, you can blame the players but, if they are that laid back immediately after leaving their boss’ presence, and it leads to a sloppy start, questions must be asked of the manager, and what he is saying in the final moments before his players leave the dressing room.
Then there were yesterday’s tactics – or lack of them. Bizarrely, Sherwood said in Friday’s press conference: “To be honest, I’ve not watched them [Liverpool] that closely.”
It seemed unlikely – until yesterday afternoon, when Spurs seemed to have no answer to Liverpool’s passing, pace and movement. In fact, it really did seem to catch them by surprise.
The lack of a plan was evident in the opening goal. There was no pressure on Philippe Coutinho, who had all the time in the world to spray the ball wide to Raheem Sterling, and he was unmarked. There was no-one attempting to stop the pass at source or prevent it from reaching its target.
That was the story all day. Tottenham never got tight to their opponents and rarely tried to reach the ball first – even after Sherwood’s half-time team talk.
It looked like they were scared to commit to a tackle in case they were beaten, which is somewhat understandable, but the result was that they allowed Liverpool to play their game with comfort and ease.
Indeed, the amount of available space and lack of pressure was highlighted by Coutinho’s goal as he advanced through the midfield unopposed and fired home from 20 yards.
Meanwhile, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were allowed to drop deep to get on the ball, outnumbering Spurs’ midfield – and when Tottenham’s wide men moved into the middle to even up the numbers, it gave the Reds’ full-backs acres of space in attacking areas.
Perhaps the Lilywhites’ full-backs could have countered that threat, but they stayed narrow, seemingly ensuring that their centre-backs were not left one on one against Suarez and Sturridge and watching out for runners from midfield.
There was no obvious plan to counter any of these issues - Spurs were beaten out wide and through the centre - and the visiting fans were understandably questioning why Sandro was sitting on the bench.
Perhaps he was not fit enough to play, but he would at least have offered a combative figure in midfield – and he probably would have been blocking Coutinho’s path for the third goal.
At the other end of the pitch, Spurs were similarly unable to threaten a side who, for all of their attacking prowess, have the worst defensive record out of the top five teams.
Sherwood said on Friday: “They do concede goals - that is one positive we can look at.”
However, having conceded two goals against Cardiff and one against Sunderland in their previous two games, the Reds had little to concern them against Spurs.
It is sobering to reflect that Gus Poyet’s Black Cats made Liverpool sweat for a 2-1 win at Anfield last Wednesday, while the Lilywhites were brushed aside.
It is also frustrating to look ahead at Tottenham’s remaining fixtures – which are all very winnable – and reflect that there is little to play for. Spurs are in the home straight but, having hit every hurdle along the way, they are already out of the race.
Sherwood’s side are a long way away indeed, and the head coach seems to have a lot more to learn if he is to make a compelling case for keeping his job.
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