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Lee Dixon's tactical view

By Lee Dixon
Match of the Day 2 pundit

Unless Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has something up his sleeve before the transfer window shuts, you have to say his side look a weaker proposition.

The system that worked so well for them last season was nowhere to be seen in the 2-1 defeat against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

The link-up play between Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres that was key to them pushing Manchester United all the way was not there.

There is a long way to go this season but on Sunday's performance it looked like Liverpool are going to miss Xabi Alonso even more than we thought.

I am sure Benitez knows how good a player Alonso was, but the decision to sell him to Real Madrid in the summer looks to have left them short of creativity.

The players they have got do not look like filling that hole.

Benitez opted to use Lucas and Javier Mascherano in central midfield on Sunday.

Spurs have a squad that is capable of messing up a few of the top four on that performance

Mascherano is a great player from a defensive point of view but passing is not his strength and Lucas is not the player to perform that role.

Spurs made it difficult for them as their midfield was strong, but Mascherano and Lucas just do not have that killer pass in their game.

It is such an asset when you have a midfielder that can hit the striker and advance the team further up the pitch.

But if the ball is not coming into those areas that sucks defenders out of position then it becomes pretty readable.

Gerrard was playing in his usual position just behind Torres but, especially in the first half, the front players were starved of any sort of decent possession.

That forced Gerrard to go looking for the ball and dropping deeper into midfield.

That causes two issues - it leaves Torres isolated up front and it also means Gerrard is no longer that forward-thinking, supporting player that he was last season.


I think they may have only linked up once in the entire game and it was probably the best chance they had from open play.

It is OK for Gerrard to come back now and again, he is such an influential player that he will always try and get himself into the game but that happened too often.

When he does that against a defence playing as well as Tottenham's, it means they were not put under enough pressure, they were not dragged wide enough by Gerrard's runs down the flanks.

You normally expect Liverpool to get some ammunition from the wings but too often Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel were forced inside.

They looked better in the second half with Yossi Benayoun on the pitch. He is more of a runner than a passer but he is a bit more creative and attack-minded than Lucas.

They need to somehow find another Alonso. Someone who can put their foot in and challenge but his main asset was he always looked for the ball forward as his first option.

Gareth Barry would have done a good job because he can challenge and pass the ball, but he opted for Manchester City instead.

They have brought in Alberto Aquilani to fill that space but until he proves he can be the chief supplier then they are going to have problems.

Liverpool's troubles were not helped by Torres looking like a shadow of his former self.

Steven Gerrard (right) and Liverpool need to find an answer to the loss of Xabi Alonso
Gerrard (right) and Liverpool need to find an answer to the loss of Alonso

Their star striker looked like a player at Christmas time, which is understandable as he did not get a full rest during the summer because he was at the Confederations Cup.

Torres is young and has had a few weeks rest so his body will recover, but he may well be suffering from mental fatigue.

When things are going well and the goals are going in he will come to life, but human beings are good at finding excuses. When you are off your game and being outplayed by your opponent it is easy for your head to drop.

Tottenham's two centre-halves dominated him positionally and physically.

One of his strengths is his ability to hold the ball up and link with Gerrard. But Sebastien Bassong and Ledley King repeatedly came through and took the ball off him.

Torres did not look his usual sharp and snappy self and it is a bit of a worry when you consider with the World Cup he has another 10 months of this season to go.

However, we must not take away how well Spurs played. They were excellent and got their tactics absolutely right.

Liverpool only lost two league games with Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres in the team

Everyone in their team were on their game - Tom Huddlestone found his passes, Luka Modric was the key to all their good stuff and found plenty of space in Liverpool's half and Robbie Keane could have had three goals in the first half.

Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes did his best to throw it away by rushing out and conceding the penalty, but overall manager Harry Redknapp will be really pleased.

If you consider they had Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and David Bentley on the bench, Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson injured, they have got a strong squad that is capable of messing up a few of the top four on that performance.

Spurs were strong at home last season and if they sort out their away form they will be a team to watch.

Lee Dixon was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew McKenzie

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see also
Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool
16 Aug 09 |  Premier League
Torres signs new Liverpool deal
14 Aug 09 |  Liverpool
New signings could be key - Lucas
10 Aug 09 |  Liverpool
Liverpool sign Aquilani from Roma
09 Aug 09 |  Liverpool
Alonso completes 30m Real move
05 Aug 09 |  Liverpool
Benitez insists Alonso will stay
24 May 09 |  Liverpool
Lee Dixon's tactical view
18 May 09 |  Premier League

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