In the 26th round of the 2017/18 Premier League season, Liverpool hosted Spurs at Anfield. The teams entered the match day in 3rd and 5th place respectively, but only two points apart. It was a very good opportunity for the Reds to increase the gap and significantly improve their top-four chances.
We’ve had some surprising good news this week – along with Danny Ings and Virgil van Dijk, Nathaniel Clyne has been added to the Champions League squad, signaling his imminent return in the near future, after a long injury lay-off. However, the England international still isn’t available for selection, so Jurgen Klopp had to make do without him again. The game also came too early for Adam Lallana, while Daniel Sturridge, as you probably know, has joined West Brom on loan for the rest of the season.
This is the team the manager eventually selected to take Spurs on:
🚨 TEAM NEWS 🚨
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 4, 2018
It cannot be doubted that Spurs have played some fantastic football this season, not least against Liverpool at Wembley, and also in the Champions League where their group was seen as the “group of death” alongside Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Harry Kane, Son Hueng-min, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, they have all been impressive this season for the North-Londoners, and one has to wonder whether they will be able to keep these players if/when big clubs come calling. The same could perhaps be said about manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Their new signing – Brazilian winger Lucas Moura from PSG – wasn’t in contention for this game due to the lack of training recently because of the move, while Serge Aurier, Harry Winks and Toby Alderweireld all recovered from their respective injuries in time. The Belgian centre-back was left out of involvement nevertheless, while Aurier and Winks sat on the bench.
Pochettino chose to go with this squad:
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 4, 2018
The First Half
Both teams immediately tried to impose their own game and establish domination. However, Liverpool were more successful in their plan and started pushing the visitors back, and it took them only three minutes to make it count.
Karius hoofed the ball, Mane brought it down for Firmino. Davinson Sanchez defended well at first, dispossessing Firmino, but then Eric Dier passed backwards between Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen. The two centre-backs lost communication and stood looking at each other, and Mo Salah made the best of their collective failure. He took the ball, went into the box, faced Hugo Lloris and shot across to the far bottom corner. His 20th league goal of the season.
Spurs tried to respond straight away, and less than a minute later Eriksen had a shot blocked by James Milner. For the next couple of minutes Spurs pushed Liverpool back, but the Reds were alert. Then they recomposed themselves and established a nice level of balance on the pitch.
Eleven minutes in, Sadio Mane unexpectedly beat Sanchez on the left wing and burst in. He had options in Firmino and Salah in the middle, but his cross was poor and easily intercepted by Vertonghen.
The visitors enjoyed more of possession in the next period, but their back line always seemed nervous at the prospect of Mane, Salah and Firmino coming at them. Therefore, Liverpool continuously looked more dangerous.
Spurs did however create a good chance in the 17th minute when Trippier sent a through ball on the right side for Son, but the Korean’s shot was blocked by van Dijk. Two minutes later Andy Robertson stopped a combination between Kane and Eriksen with some deft defending. As Liverpool tried to move forward, Spurs launched a counterattack through Son, but this time it was Trent Alexander-Arnold who thwarted them with a smart interception.
In the 22nd minute, Trent sent in a lovely cross for Firmino to flick on goalwards, but it went a yard wide.
Spurs were mostly trying to play out from the back, but Liverpool’s pressing was rather effective. Even though they rarely lost the ball, they couldn’t move it forward and were often forced to go back to Lloris who would then hoof it. Meanwhile, their back line played relatively high, and with Lloris rarely getting out of his box there always seemed to be quite a lot of space in behind for players like Salah and Mane to exploit.
After 29 minutes, Firmino intercepted a pass from Sanchez and combined with Milner, but Sanchez kept enough composure to correct his mistake.
Three minutes later, Salah was fouled hard by Vertonghen, but referee John Moss kept his cards in his pocket. Salah took it himself and swung in a cross. Van Dijk was the best in the air but couldn’t aim goalwards. Two minutes after that, a similar situation occurred when Davies fouled Milner. Milner swung it in and this time van Dijk caught it better, but Lloris was alert and saved it.
Five minutes before the break, it was Spurs who had a free-kick in a favorable position for a cross. It was taken by Eriksen. Robertson tried to head away but it wasn’t a proper clearance, it fell somewhat awkward for Jordan Henderson who tried to do it better but also failed. It reached Dembele. The Belgian midfielder took a strong low shot and forced an excellent save from Karius.
Two minutes later, Trent and Davies went all-out to win the ball, Trent touched it first and then Davies went over him and down to the ground. Not only did Moss wrongly give Spurs a free-kick, but he also booked Liverpool’s right-back.
Soon afterwards Demebele maliciously clipped Mane from behind and received no punishment.
A minute into the stoppage time, Firmino and Milner gave Dier trouble and dispossessed him in Spurs’ half. They involved Salah who tried to thread a through-pass for Mane, but he overhit it.
The Second Half
Both teams entered the second half with strong desire. They kept their lines close together and a strong battle was developing in the middle of the park.
Five minutes in, Dembele produced another malicious foul on Mane, but he escaped booking again.
In the 52nd minute, Alli, Trippier and Eriksen combined well on the left, and the Dane eventually whipped in a cross aimed at Kane, but the league’s current top scorer couldn’t reach it. Liverpool had a good chance for a counterattack two minutes later. It was lead by Salah, who burst forward and went for Emre Can who was coming in on his right, but the pass was uncharacteristically poor and Vertonghen intercepted it with ease.
With 57 minutes gone, Spurs had a fantastic chance to level the score. Eriksen sent the ball into the feet of Alli, who flicked it nicely on for the run of Son, and Son was through, running at Karius from the left. Karius however rushed out, spread himself up nicely, closed the angle down and blocked the shot. Alli picked it up and shot wide from the edge of the box.
A minute later, Milner was booked for a late tackle on Trippier who stayed down for a while. The free-kick was taken well by Eriksen, but Kane made his run a split-second too soon, prompting the linesman to raise his flag.
At this point, Spurs were outplaying Liverpool. Their pressing worked well and they were dominating the midfield, which enabled them to launch attack after attack. Klopp rightly sensed that a change was needed.
In the 65th minute, Henderson and Mane stepped off. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum took to the field.
Three minutes later, Alli came into Liverpool’s box and dived shamelessly, just as Dejan Lovren took the ball off him. Moss stopped the play and booked the Spurs player for trying to cheat.
With 20 minutes to go, Salah lead another counterattack, but the joint effort of Vertonghen and Dembele was just enough to stop him.
It was then time for Pochettino to try some drastic measures. Centre-back Sanchez was replaced by winger Erik Lamela. Eric Dier slotted into the back four, and their formation was now a diamond – Dembele at the base, Alli behind Kane and Son, Eriksen on the left and Lamela on the right.
In the 75th minute, Davies whipped in a dangerous cross from the left, but Lovren dealt with it. A minute later, Salah stole ball just outside Liverpool’s box and rushed forward. He nicely engaged Firmino, but the Brazilian ruined the move with a poor pass intended for Milner.
With 12 minutes remaining, Klopp decided to change the formation too. Milner went off and Joel Matip came on, in what was to be the last substitution for the Reds. The shape was now 3-5-2, with Firmino and Salah up front, Wijnaldum and Can as the two holding midfielders and Oxlade-Chamberlain in front of them. The full-backs pushed higher as the three centre-backs now formed the last line of defence.
At the same time, Pochettino decided to freshen up his midfield, and he sent on Victor Wanyama for Dembele. It took the Kenyan powerhouse only two minutes to leave a big mark on the game.
Eriksen sent in a cross from the left. Karius punched it out as far as Wanyama, some 25 yards out. And then Wanyama blasted it, slightly with the outside of his foot, and it went like a bullet – straight into the very top corner. There was nothing Karius could do, even though he tried. 80 minutes were gone.
Tension unwanted immediately arose among the Liverpool ranks. Sensing this, the visitors went all-out for the whole prize.
Six minutes from time, Alli sent a through pass for Kane who was standing offside. Lovren tried to intercept it, but as Lovren’s luck would have it, he miskicked it and it reached Kane. As it came off Lovren, the offside position was suddenly irrelevant. Karius came out and lunged at Kane’s feet as the Spurs’ striker tried to go around him, and Kane went down. The slow-motion showed that there was not nearly enough contact between the two for Kane to fall down, but Moss had already blown his whistle and pointed to the spot.
A brief discussion between the referee and the linesman followed, but the decision remained unchanged. Penalty.
Harry Kane stepped up to take full advantage of this unexpected development. Expecting Karius to go one way or the other, he shot down the middle.
But Karius stood his ground and saved it. Van Dijk did just enough to put Lamela off on the rebound, and his shot went sky-high.
There were four minutes of added time to be played.
Just as the 90 were up, Trent took a throw-in deep in Spurs’ half and got it back from Wijnaldum. He then cut inside and went for a one-two with Salah, but the Spurs defenders prevented Salah from giving it back. And then – magic.
Alli, Trippier, Vertonghen, Dier and Lloris weren’t enough to prevent Salah from dancing through into the six-yard box and slamming it into the net.
But it wasn’t to be.
Pochettino’s immediate reaction was to replace Son with Fernando Llorente.
Minute 93 was about to expire when Trippier took a throw-in deep in Liverpool’s half. He took it long, aiming for Llorente who tussled with van Dijk for it, and managed to get ahead of the Dutchman and cushion it down. Van Dijk seemed still in control though, and just as he swung his leg to blast it out, Lamela threw himself in front and van Dijk caught him. As the clearance was completed by Lovren and Spurs players lifted their arms appealing for another penalty, Moss waved “play on”.
But then he spotted that the linesman was waving his flag and stopped the play. Another discussion between the two officials followed, and Moss eventually pointed to the spot again, and Kane stepped up – again.
This time Karius guessed wrong. He dived to one side while Kane shot to the other.
And that was it. After the final whistle, Klopp was forced to pull his disgruntled players away from John Moss and his assistants, though it seemed as he would have gladly aimed a scathing word or two at the officiating quartet himself.
Well, what’s done is done. There’s no going back now, and unless the two teams meet again in some stage of the Champions League, Spurs are set to avoid defeat at the hands of Liverpool this season.
And in all fairness, in terms of the quality of the performance in this game a draw does feel like a fair result, despite the Reds being robbed of two points at the very the end. But the bitterest feeling in all this is that situations like this have happened too often this season. Watford, Everton, possibly West Brom, they all snatched a point from Liverpool – courtesy of the officials. Brighton & Hove had a penalty given wrongly against Liverpool too, though it wasn’t as costly.
As for the overall quality of the game, taking both teams into account, it hasn’t really lived up to the expectations of a clash between two teams playing attacking football with lots of pace, flair and creativity.
Meanwhile, the race for top four continues.
As for Spurs, the North-London Derby lies ahead, and in the round after next, it’s Manchester United vs Chelsea, and Arsenal vs Manchester City. The Reds only need not to falter at St. Mary’s (up next) and against West Ham at Anfield later, and it will be fine.
We walk on.