Antonio Conte made it clear in his pre-match press conference that he has limited players available for Tottenham’s remaining games. Stating that he only has 15 senior players in contention for selection, Spurs’ bench again looked rather youthful for such an important game in the top-four race.
Harvey White and Dane Scarlett have been regulars in the matchday squad in recent weeks and again took their place on the bench, with academy ace Matthew Craig selected for the second successive game. Conte really does have very few options to choose from at present, with Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn his only two senior attacking players who he can opt to bring on if he needs to change things in the final third.
Lucas did in fact start last time out against Leicester City but it wasn’t a surprise to see him drop out for Dejan Kulusevski after just not having an impact in the 3-1 win. Amid question marks over how exactly Spurs would set up given Liverpool’s attacking qualities, the Lilywhites lined up in a 3-4-3 formation.
However, it was more of a 4-5-1 when they had to defend as Kulusevski and Son Heung-min came back to help out the wing-backs, before reverting to 3-4-3 when they were in possession. It worked to perfection as Spurs caused issues for Liverpool and almost left Merseyside with all three points.
The game at Anfield saw Tottenham come up against Luis Diaz for the first time since he joined Liverpool at the end of the January transfer window. Excelling for Porto and making a real name for himself in Portugal and the Champions League, Fabio Paratici and Spurs made their move to sign him as he looked to take the team’s attack to the next level.
However, their move for the Colombian only alerted Liverpool and they quickly sprung into action to clinch a deal for the highly-rated player. Lining up in the Anfield tunnel a few minutes ahead of kick-off, Diaz was greeted by a familiar face as he waited to enter the pitch.
It was Spurs’ Davinson Sanchez, who plays alongside the 25-year-old on international duty for Colombia, as he made a beeline for the player and shared a quick embrace with him before making his way out to take his place on the bench. Sanchez was seen as someone who could help entice Diaz to Tottenham back in January as he was on international duty with the attacker at the exact time Spurs made their move, only for Liverpool to then win the race for his international teammate. Diaz had the last laugh, with his deflected strike earning a point for the Reds.
Conte’s message to his Tottenham team
Liverpool have caused huge problems for their opponents over the course of this season and Conte knew his side were going to be in for an extremely tough battle on Merseyside. The Reds, as they have done throughout the campaign, started the game on fire and caused issues for the visitors inside the first minute.
The first opening of the contest went to Sadio Mane after some relentless pressure but the Senegal international couldn’t connect with the ball in a good position in the area when he attempted an acrobatic effort. Setting the tone inside the first 60 seconds, Conte was quick to speak to his players as he signalled for them to be calm, something he did numerous times in the opening exchanges.
Liverpool were dominant at times in the first half, with Eric Dier and Cristian Romero needed to produce good blocks in their own area to stop the Reds troubling Hugo Lloris. The Carabao Cup winners didn’t have it all their own way in the first half, however, with Rodrigo Bentancur seeing an effort saved and Jordan Henderson producing a fine block on Harry Kane after an excellent break from Spurs.
Spurs remaining strong
Tottenham were put under intense pressure throughout the game at Anfield as Liverpool did everything they possibly could to get all three points in their title challenge. The issue the hosts had, however, was the threat of Spurs on the counter.
Despite Liverpool really turning the screw on Conte’s men, Tottenham remained strong at the back and produced block after block and tackle after tackle. Romero was in the right place at the right time just after the restart to head away in a crowded box, with Diaz steaming in as he looked to convert a cross from the right.
Ben Davies then frustrated the Reds heading into the final quarter with a sensational block after Mohamed Salah had cut inside the area and unleashed an effort towards Lloris. With the back three excellent and making life incredibly difficult for the Champions League finalists, Tottenham’s wing-backs also more than chipped in with their defensive duties.
The onus on the wing-backs in Conte’s team may be to attack and help out the team in the final third, yet against Liverpool it was more about defending as Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon delivered huge performances and potentially their best for the club. All across the pitch Spurs were excellent defensively in a game many expected them to leave empty handed to leave Jurgen Klopp frustrated, but they also replicated their display away at Manchester City in February by troubling their opponents on the break numerous times.
That Hojbjerg chance
Winning in stoppage time at the Etihad Stadium back in February courtesy of Kane’s late header, Spurs had a huge opportunity to cause another huge surprise against the Premier League’s best. It was a very similar chance to the one Kane took in Manchester, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg this time not burying his header.
The Dane and Steven Bergwijn were free at the back post as Harry Winks swung in a lofted ball, but the former elected to try and head the ball back across to Kane, even though he was on his own yards from goal. Hojbjerg had his head in his hands and he will be hoping his miss doesn’t prove decisive come the final day.
Tottenham now sit one point behind Arsenal having played one game more but that lead could be extended to four if the Gunners beat Leeds on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be a huge occasion on Thursday when the sides meet in the north London derby in N17.