Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Another Scare Survived
Liverpool welcomed Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield in the 32nd round of the Premier League season on Sunday.
The importance for the Reds to do their best to win every game between now and the end of the season can hardly be exaggerated, and in any case, it doesn’t need explaining at this point. The title race is finely balanced. Manchester City won their game away to Fulham on Saturday, so there was no room for error against a tough opponent.
Spurs are in dire need of points themselves. Once considered among the title favourites, they’ve fallen out of that bracket and now even their top-four finish is in doubt. The battle for the remaining two places which lead into next season’s Champions League is in some ways even more fierce, if only because there are four teams involved.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 31, 2019
Jurgen Klopp was still without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joe Gomez and Rhian Brewster, though all three have recently made significant steps towards full fitness. Xherdan Shaqiri and Trent Alexander-Arnold were being monitored ahead of the game, while captain Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita were back in contention having missed out on the Fulham game last week.
Mauricio Pochettino, on the other hand, couldn’t count on midfielders Eric Dier (hip problem) and Harry Winks (groin), as well as defender Serge Aurier who suffered a hamstring injury on international duty.
But the most notable absentee for Pochettino was – Pochettino himself. The Spurs manager was forced to watch the game and issue orders from the stands as best he could, as he is serving a two-match ban following his outburst at referee Mike Dean after his team’s defeat to Burnley.
#THFC: Lloris (C), Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Rose, Sissoko, Eriksen, Dele, Lucas, Kane.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 31, 2019
The First Half
Born on the wings of the tremendous support coming from the stands, Liverpool took the ball and went forward straight away.
Their fluidity was, however, interrupted after two minutes as Danny Rose went down.
Alisson had a shaky moment soon afterwards as he and Trent a bit clumsily dealt with the ball in the box under some pressure from Kane, but they got away with it. Lloris returned the favour with a clearance that found James Milner in Spurs’ half, but the attack was eventually finished by Salah who sent a shot high over the bar.
Spurs tried again and Eriksen too advantage of a slip from Matip to get forward, and he tried to find the run of Moura into the space vacated by Matip but Trent was quick to dispossess the former PSG man. Trent and Moura had a few contests in those opening minutes and the Liverpool defender won them all.
Spurs were playing with a back three of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Sanchez, with Rose and Trippier acting as wing-backs. Sissoko, Alli and Eriksen played in the middle, behind Moura and Kane. Their system seemed to be working early on. The three were quick to become five whenever necessary, and they were often able to double up on Salah and Mane. They were also quick to get forward, with Kane often going wide to drag a defender out and open space up for the pace of Moura through the middle. Liverpool had to be on their toes and they were, but their early momentum was quickly impeded.
Firmino’s drops into midfield weren’t very efficient with Sissoko ready to get into a physical battle with him, and the usually very useful diagonals between the fullbacks lacked accuracy. It was clear this game would be anything but easy to win.
But there’s no stopping the Reds when the mood takes them. In the 16th minute, Henderson switched play and found Robertson on the left. The fullback was in some space and he took a few steps forward before whipping in a perfect cross for Firmino between the defenders, and the Brazilian put his free header into the net.
They almost repeated the move immediately, but Sanchez got in front of Firmino this time and cleared the box before Trent let one fly from range – just wide.
Liverpool’s attacks were now getting the visitors on the ropes at least once a minute. The fluent one-touch play was simply too much for Spurs, and only a slight lack of concentration in the final third from Liverpool players kept them just one goal down.
Alisson played with the supporters’ nerves again in the 23rd minute as he charged out to deal with a long pass towards the edge of the box, and a misunderstanding between him and Milner almost gave Alli a chance to score, but Alisson recovered with some luck and grabbed the ball. Then Liverpool continued their offensive.
The ball was moved quickly towards Lloris. Crosses were whipped in, corners were won, and Spurs only occasionally managed to get forward themselves. When they did, though, thy didn’t look harmless.
On the half-hour mark, Firmino gave Sanchez some trouble as he dispossessed him inside the box and tried to square it, but Alderweireld dealt with it. At the other end, a poor pass by Henderson gave Alli a chance to shoot from just outside the box, and his rocket went a few inches over the bar. Eriksen soon paid Henderson’s favour back and Vertonghen was forced to stop Mane at the last possible moment.
The Reds had an interesting strategy when taking corners. They deployed all their tall and powerful players inside the six yards, putting strong pressure on Lloris. Trent aimed the corners straight at goal, hoping to get a touch to take the ball in.
Minute 34 was passing when a rare van Dijk mistake gave Kane a chance to look for Moura on the far post from the right wing, but the England striker’s cross was of low-league level that time. Mane quickly threatened at the other end with a curled shot which left Lloris rooted and just missed the far post.
But Spurs had shaken the pressure off. They were now giving as much as they were getting, even more at times, and Klopp’s men needed their wits sharp about them at the back. Eriksen and Alli were extremely quick and strong in the middle of the park, and they were winning more duels by the minute. Every duel won was quickly followed up with a pass into Kane, who then displayed his fine hold-up skills and looked to involve runners around him.
Towards the end of the half, Liverpool slowed the game down. They kept possession safe and looked to create a little space for Henderson to look ahead with the ball at his feet, but further than that, the visitors were packed very close, defending with nine men all the time.
The Second Half
Attacking the Kop end now, Liverpool went in search for a second goal straight after the break. Three minutes in, Milner first enabled Wijnaldum to win a corner on the right with a deft touch, and then he received it short before finding van Dijk on the far post. Unfortunately, the Dutchman failed to hit the target with a towering header.
Spurs quickly threw the pressure off again and tried to hit back. Both teams were trying to apply the same approach when moving forward: get the ball wide and charge down the byline, and if you can’t make something happen straight away, keep possession in the opposition half, be patient, employ high pressing sharply if the ball is lost. Once that press is played around, it’s the other team’s turn.
The visitors suddenly had a great chance in the 56th minute. A deflected cross from Rose fell kindly for Kane who managed to get a shot off from a tight angle past van Dijk, but straight at Alisson. The Brazil ‘keeper only parried it into the path of Eriksen, whose strong shot from close range was blocked at the last moment by Robertson.
Spurs tried to continue attacking but they were nearly undone in the 59th minute. Good defending saw the Reds get the ball to Firmino near the halfway line and the goalscorer released Salah through the middle. The Egyptian ran at Alderweireld and took a shot which hit the Belgian defender, even though he had Mane with a sight of goal on his left. A poor choice.
It was Spurs who were more successful in wide areas at that point. Eriksen often doubled up with Trippier on the right to give Robertson trouble, and Rose found spaces on the other side. Crosses were being flung in, but both Matip and van Dijk were alert.
In the 69th minute, a loose pass by Vertonghen went straight to Trent who immediately found Salah in space at 25 yards. Firmino’s diagonal run opened up space for Salah to shoot, but the shot went slightly over the bar.
The Spurs coaching staff took the opportunity to take out Sanchez and send on Son Heung-min.
Sixty seconds later, the score was level. Kane went down under the slightest of touches from Henderson and quickly took the free-kick (while the ball was still moving). He picked out Trippier with a fine diagonal and Trippier’s pullback was miskicked by Eriksen. The miskick confused everyone but Moura who ran onto it and slammed it in from five yards. Once again, a mistake by referee Martin Atkinson ends up costing Liverpool.
The Reds responed well, however. They attacked now relentlessly, and with 15 minutes remaining Trent bent one beautifully under the bar, but Lloris managed to divert it over with his fingertips.
Then Klopp acted. Divock Origi and Fabinho came on for Henderson and Milner, and the Reds came close from a corner straight away. Van Dijk jumped highest but only grazed the ball which then fell to Firmino, but the Brazilian wasn’t able to control it well enough under pressure from several opponents.
Then Fabinho robbed Alli and sent Salah running, before Moura took out the Egyptian from behind and got the only yellow card of the game. Surprisingly enough, the free-kick was taken by Origi, and it grazed the wall before going out for a corner.
With eight minutes to go, Pochettino’s deputies made their second change. Ben Davies entered the fray instead of Moura.
The game was now being played in the Spurs half, though the space in behind the back line was very inviting for the pace of Son to try and exploit. It almost bore fruit for the visitors in the 85th minute as Rose and Kane released Son and Sissoko, and they had a two-on-one against van Dijk. The world’s most expensive defender was a match for the pair of them, however, as he forced Sissoko to shoot with his left foot – over the bar.
Time was getting short for Liverpool, but as they went forward in numbers, Spurs were very dangerous on the counterattack. Liverpool were in possession, Spurs found ways to shoot. Alli had a go in the 88th minute from just inside the box, just missing the far top corner.
Origi was working hard on the left flank in these moments, and in the last minute of the 90, he pushed Trippier back and won a corner. Trent swung it in, Kane cleared it. Robertson returned it to Trent and the right-back swung it high towards the far post from where Salah tried to return it across for Mane. Lloris went to intercept and parried it into the feet of Alderweireld, who clumsily nudged it over the goal-line.
GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ANFIELD ERUPTS
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 31, 2019
Spurs then went all out for another equalizer. Fernando Llorente replaced Eriksen, and Klopp responded by pulling out Salah for Dejan Lovren.
Four minutes were added on, but soon a head-clash between Llorente and Fabinho forced a break in play which lasted for a while. In the 96th minute, Spurs won a free-kick inside Liverpool’s half and lobbed the ball forward, but first van Dijk and then Trent cleared the box, and that was it.
A crazy game, but the result in the end was fair. Liverpool were the better team, not by much when you look at the entire contest, but better. Once again Origi has proven why he’s currently ahead of Daniel Sturridge in the pecking order, and it’s getting harder by the game to imagine the once very prolific striker, now 30, staying at the club.
The three points won hereby are huge. They put the Reds back on top of the Premier League table, though Manchester City still have a game in hand. Spurs, on the other hand, might drop to fourth on Monday evening, if Arsenal beat Newcastle.
At this point it matters little how the games are won, as long as they are won. With Spurs out of the way, it’s one big hurdle less, and now only Chelsea are left ahead among the top six.
But let’s not look too far ahead. Next up it’s Southampton on Friday.
We Walk On.