There can be little doubt that Liverpool and Tottenham have gone in opposite directions since they met in the Champions League final in June. Liverpool won on that strangely underwhelming occasion in Madrid and they have since pressed harder, taking a stranglehold on the Premier League. Spurs, by contrast, have endured all manner of setbacks – both on the field and off it with regard to team building.
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On a pulsating Anfield occasion, Liverpool emphasized the gap in quality, playing with a breathless front‑foot intensity and, for long spells, threatening to tear Spurs apart. The chances that they created were plentiful and clear-cut and it was all that Mauricio Pochettino’s players could do to cling on. They did cling on – throughout a first half that they led through Harry Kane’s goal on 47 seconds and until the 75th minute, when Liverpool’s only reward for their dominance had been Jordan Henderson’s 52nd-minute equalizer.
It could not last and it did not. To Spurs, a point to follow those from earlier in the season at Manchester City and Arsenal would have been scarcely believable and, inevitably, they lost their fragile grip on it. What stuck in their throats was how they conceded the winner. Serge Aurier tangled with Sadio Mané inside the Spurs area, winning possession, but he must have been the only person inside the stadium not to feel the Liverpool forward reaching in to nick the ball back. When Aurier swung a boot to clear, he connected only with Mané. Mohamed Salah did the rest from the penalty spot.
The crazy thing was that Spurs could have pinched an 89th‑minute equalizer when Danny Rose jinked into space and fired high when gloriously placed. Pochettino’s team did fight until the last, having further sniffs through Son Heung-min and Kane, but anything other than a home win would have been an injustice.
Liverpool can chalk off another one. This was their third win of the season over a rival from the so-called big six while they have also got the visit to Manchester United out of the way, drawing 1-1 last Sunday – the only time that they have dropped points so far. Their next home game comes against Manchester City on Sunday week and the only small worry here was the ankle injury that forced off Salah before the end, although Jürgen Klopp described it as “nothing serious”.
Pochettino could take heart from the way that his players battled; how they somehow remained in contention as Liverpool threw everything at them. Spurs had two moments when they might have made it 2-0. Dele Alli and Kane both stretched but could not apply a decisive touch in front of goal on 24 minutes while Son struck the crossbar on the counterattack early in the second-half.
Yet the cold truth was that Spurs did not do enough with the ball, they were second best for too much of the game and the defeat left them in mid-table, with more losses than wins. Over their past 22 matches, they have taken just 23 points and that is practically relegation form. Pochettino is acutely aware that the trends are downwards.
The Tottenham manager had been desperate to use the 5-0 Champions League drubbing of Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday as a touchstone; something to mark the end of the team’s struggles and his hopes surged when they scored early on. Moussa Sissoko drove away from two red shirts and Son’s shot deflected off Dejan Lovren before coming back off the post. Kane adjusted his feet quickly to guide home a stooping header.
Liverpool’s response was emphatic. They hogged possession, their counter-press was “exceptional” – to borrow the word that Klopp used – they penned Spurs back and created a fistful of openings from the 20 minute mark, when Salah first worked Paulo Gazzaniga. It was a minor miracle that Spurs got to half-time in front.
There were a series of stand-out first-half chances for Liverpool, with Gazzaniga distinguishing himself to keep out the first three. His double save to thwart first Salah and then Roberto Firmino drew the breath while his tip-over from Virgil van Dijk’s header was a special moment.
The Argentinian did well to push away a Trent Alexander-Arnold pile-driver before Mane fluffed a free header. Henderson mis-read another header on 45 minutes and Spurs, who had Rose booked for a scything challenge on Henderson, could gulp in the oxygen during the interval.
Pochettino’s team had to get a foothold higher up the pitch because it felt unlikely that their rearguard action could endure for another 45 minutes. It was easier said than done in the face of Liverpool’s relentlessness but they did create a golden chance in the 48th minute, when Gazzaniga’s drop-kick sent Son clear of Lovren. Son dribbled around Alisson and, from a tight angle, he thudded against the goal frame.
Liverpool made the most of the reprieve. Gazzaniga had already kept out a Firmino header and he was beaten when Rose could not deal with a Fabinho chip and Henderson bludgeoned low into the far corner.
Liverpool circulated the ball with tremendous zip, their movement was joined-up and, time and again, the full‑backs, Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, got into advanced crossing positions. There were chances for Firmino and Gini Wijnaldum before Salah’s penalty and Spurs’ late push was not enough. “So far, so good,” Klopp said, with one of those trademark brilliant smiles.