Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Sunday 31st March 2019 7:14

Liverpool v Tottenham Mohamed Salah

1) There have been plenty of exciting, entertaining games between the top six sides this season, but this one is up there with the best of them.

There were times throughout the game where one or the other of the two sides were not at their best, but there was never a moment when things seemed static or in any danger of becoming dull.

With everything in such constant motion, mistakes were almost inevitable, but until the last minute, the most costly errors came in attack, rather than in defence. The result was a game of not exactly the highest quality, but without being at all lacking in tension or excitement. It was the very essence of two sides towards the top of the table who desperately needed to get a late-season win by any means necessary.

 

2) Liverpool lined up exactly as we all expected, the usual questions around which three of their midfielders would be rotated in notwithstanding.

Mauricio Pochettino reverted to the 3-5-2 that he had also deployed in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal, meaning that in principle they were effectively matched up man-for-man against Liverpool’s 4-3-3.

Pochettino clearly trusts his players to go toe to toe against a side looking to go back to the top of the table, and earlier in the season, you might have fancied them to get the best of all those individual battles. But with Tottenham’s recent form and the number of errors they have committed lately, you would have been forgiven for not sharing that confidence.

 

3) Sure enough, the biggest problem with that approach was exposed reasonably quickly.

It’s no coincidence that Liverpool’s nano-wobble in January and February came when Trent Alexander-Arnold was out injured: the three draws against Leicester, West Ham and Manchester United all came in his absence, and that’s because in the absence of a number 10, he and Andrew Robertson are so often the creative heartbeat of this Liverpool side.

Tottenham didn’t realise that, apparently, because from the very off they sat off the hosts’ full-back pair, allowing them time and space to pick cross-field balls and, more damagingly, crosses.

Sure enough, after 16 minutes, Robertson curled in an absolute peach of a cross for Roberto Firmino, who rose and planted a firm header past Hugo Lloris to give Liverpool the lead.

 

4) That gave Spurs a problem. I mean, obviously it gave them a problem; being 1-0 down away from home is never going to not be a problem. But what I mean is that Tottenham went behind in the 16th minute against Arsenal too, then struggled to respond.

Yes, that game finished 1-1, but remember that their equaliser came from a barely-deserved penalty and that Arsenal missed a late spot kick of their own.

At least this time around, Spurs had creative players in the lineup to help them hit back in just exactly these kinds of circumstances, with Dele Alli playing where Victor Wanyama had started against the Gunners, alongside Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen.

That battle in central midfield would later see Spurs begin to dominate the game – but not before they had to weather another few Liverpool chances.

 

5) After that Arsenal game we wrote: ‘And therein lay the problem with [Tottenham’s] 3-4-1-2: it left Spurs with five defenders on the pitch against a team that had a one-goal lead and were happy – nay, determined – to sit back and preserve it.’

Not a bit of it here. Liverpool kept at it in the minutes immediately following the goal, creating good chances through a Trent Alexander-Arnold strike and a Sadio Mane curler. Had either of them gone in, Liverpool would have been 2-0 up within 20 minutes.

As such, you could understand why Liverpool kept going for it throughout the rest of the game. It’s never really been Jurgen Klopp’s style to just sit back anyway, though, has it?

 

6) Notable by his absence for Spurs in the first half was Harry Kane. He was playing; he was just notable by his absence.

Kane has always liked to travel around the pitch, but it seemed like each time he got the ball before the break, he was in a harmless position out on the wing, and was unable to find opportunities to drive into more dangerous areas.

That was most likely a side-effect of playing with wing-backs who were so penned in by Liverpool’s wide pairing, and only highlighted further the need for Pochettino to change things up at the break.

 

7) Liverpool kept going, and if those two earlier efforts from Mane and Alexander-Arnold were agonising – like stubbing a toe, say – then Mane’s second effort on 37 minutes was the equivalent of stepping onto an upturned plug.

The in-form Senegalese was so sure his curler from the edge of the box was heading into the back of the net that he was already pulling away to celebrate as he watched it go wide.

One badly-spurned counter-attacking chance aside aside, it was the last occasion for quite some time that Liverpool would look really threatening, as the balance of play gradually shifted Tottenham’s way.

 

8) Pochettino helped to bring that about by making that badly-needed tactical switch, plumping for a 4-4-1-1 with Jan Vertonghen going to left-back and Danny Rose to the left wing.

Spurs had already started to outmanoeuvre Liverpool in the middle of the park, albeit without creating too much other than a dangerous-looking Alli strike at the end of a one-two with Eriksen that flew over the bar.

This had the double effect of giving Robertson and Alexander-Arnold something to worry about, limiting their ability to get forward and find space; and also allowing Kane to get into – and stay in – the central areas where he is most dangerous.

 

9) Within 10 minutes of the restart, it was clear that Spurs would be a very different proposition in the second half.

Their best chance yet inevitably followed, with Rose heading up the left wing and crossing for Kane who – hallelujah! – was waiting inside the box. Alisson parried his shot into Eriksen’s path, and Robertson reacted brilliantly to throw himself in front of the Dane’s shot and prevent an otherwise certain equaliser.

That meant Robertson had created a goal at one end and prevented one at the other. Not too shabby.

 

10) Last season, there was no player Liverpool fans would rather have had carrying the ball forward on the counter-attack than Mo Salah: the man could simply do no wrong in those kinds of situation. But in the immortal words of Tim Sherwood, ‘when you’re hot you’re hot, and when you’re cold you’re not hot’.

Salah has most assuredly been not hot in 2019. The Egyptian is just trying that little bit too hard to force things, with a particular habit for shooting when he really ought not to, as if trying to will the gambler’s fallacy (“if I lost last time I’m more likely to win this time”) to come true.

Sure enough, when he burst through the Spurs lines on the counter-attack on 59 minutes, the Egyptian went for the shot, despite having Mane in support making an excellent run to get himself into a much better position to score. That would be the Sadio Mane who has scored 11 goals in his last 11 games, by the way. Has Mane contracted the Monstars to capture Salah’s ability in a magic football and injected it into himself?

Either way, the ball of course ended up getting nowhere near scoring, and the chance was gone.

It is getting to the point now where you actually expect him to just get it slightly wrong in those situations, which is a shame. Perhaps what came later will give him a bit of a pick-me-up.

 

11) The costliness of that kind of desperation-afflicted decision-making was hammered home 11 minutes later as Tottenham finally found a richly-earned equaliser.

Moura’s name is the one on the scoresheet, but all the credit for this goal has to go to Kane and Kieran Trippier. The striker won a free kick just inside Liverpool’s half, and immediately sprayed an absolutely perfect pass into the path of Trippier’s clever run before Liverpool even knew what was happening.

Trippier took the ball down with a wonderful touch and played in Eriksen, who squared it for Moura to turn into the net with ease.

Seriously, that Kane pass. It was so good.

 

12) The equaliser forced Klopp to make a tactical switch of his own, and predictably he shifted to his favourite plan B by going 4-2-3-1.

Divock Origi was the man selected to go out on the left wing, with Fabinho also coming on as Jordan Henderson and James Milner departed, having spent most of the second half getting absolutely ripped to shreds by Tottenham.

The Belgian’s introduction does rather pose the question of precisely who Xherdan Shaqiri has offended that he never gets brought on anymore. He appeared in every game but two between September 22 and February 4, since when he has played in just one league game. He has now been an unused substitute in five consecutive league matches.

Klopp recently revealed that the Swiss has been suffering from an groin inflamation – but then why include him in the matchday squads at all, ‘lack of options’ or not? Perhaps there is more to it but it strikes me as a little odd.

 

13) Liverpool already led the league for late goals before this match – nobody had scored more in the last 15 minutes of Premier League games than their 18, which is of course now 19.

But Spurs looked more likely to get one here, not least when Sissoko and substitute Son Heung-Min went two-on-one with Virgil Van Dijk off another great Kane pass

At first it looked like Sissoko had just done a brilliant impression of Salah on 85 minutes, but then you realised on second examination just how well Van Dijk did to cut off any hope Sissoko had of playing the ball to Son, despite how desperately the Frenchman clearly wanted to do just that.

Instead, Van Dijk forced him not only to take on the shot himself, but to do it on his weaker left foot. He still should have at the very least tested Alisson rather than blaze the ball clean over the bar, but considering the situation he was put in, Van Dijk reacted with typically calm perfection.

Alli also put a shot just over the bar two minutes from the end of normal time after Spurs again tore open the Liverpool midfield, just to emphasise that this was definitely Tottenham’s game…

 

14) …ah. Oops.

Liverpool had been trying to catch out Spurs from corners all game, with Alexander-Arnold’s inswingers designed to go down the throat of Lloris as much as possible; he even hit the near post in the first half with what basically amounted to a shot.

And wouldn’t you just know it, one finally paid off in the very last of the regulation 90 minutes. Alexander-Arnold’s initial delivery was cleared, but quickly came back in from the left via the right-back. Salah put a weak header straight at Lloris, but the Frenchman could only push it onto Toby Alderweireld’s leg and it dribbled over the line.

Anfield exploded; Liverpool were going back to the top of the league.

This was not Salah pushing his luck – there wasn’t really anything else he could do – but there was nonetheless a large degree of good fortune that the ball ended up in the net.

There was no real power in the header, and Lloris really really should have held onto it. For all his good qualities, the World Cup winning goalkeeper is rather prone to these odd blundering moments, and the frustration that inevitably comes his way from Spurs fans is more understandable with each game.

Tottenham have other areas that are more of a priority if and when they actually decide to enter the transfer market, not least because a significant upgrade would likely be difficult to come by, but you do wonder how much better off their already-generally-excellent defence would be with a more reassuring figure between the sticks.

Still, not Liverpool’s problem, is it?

 

15) With Manchester United and (just about) Chelsea winning their games this weekend, this defeat leaves Tottenham well and truly in the thick of the fight for a Champions League place.

Just a few weeks ago the idea that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side might catch Tottenham would have seemed laughable; that is now the reality, with only goal difference separating the two sides. Sixth-placed Chelsea are just a point behind them, as are Arsenal, who can leapfrog Pochettino’s side and go third by avoiding defeat at home to Newcastle tomorrow night. All four sides will have played 31 games once that game is done.

This was not a great time of the season to take just one point from five Premier League games: as a result of that, they now no longer have the luxury of being able to take it easy against Crystal Palace or Huddersfield in preparation for their two Champions League quarter final games against Manchester City.

 

16) Liverpool are back top, two points ahead of City, but have just six league games to go while City have seven.

There’s only so many new ways you can find to say ‘it’s too close to call’, as we have been practically forced to do all season, but it remains true. Only two of Liverpool’s remaining league opponents are in the top half (Chelsea and Wolves, both of whom must visit Anfield), but then only three of City’s are, too: Pep Guardiola’s men must play Spurs at home, Manchester United at Old Trafford (yes please), and Leicester at home.

Nonetheless, it’s incredibly unlikely that either side can maintain a perfect record across their fixture lists. Your guess really is as good as ours on this one.

One thing we know for sure: there’s no f**king way that was Salah’s goal. Don’t be ridiculous, Mo.

 

Steven Chicken is on Twitter

 

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