A game billed as one of the big title deciders for this season ended in incredible fashion. The league leaders, Tottenham Hotspur, visited Anfield and defended from minute one but it was not enough, in the end, to halt Jürgen Klopp’s red army as they marched on to victory to clinch the first place position for this week and put a chink the armour for the North London side under the Mourinho revolution.
It may be early days in the reign of the Portuguese serial winner’s tenure at Spurs but there is no doubt that this season the results do not lie – Tottenham is a force to be reckoned with.
Leading going into the fixture on points with a full-strength side, José went out on the attack by claiming the only “big injury” Liverpool was suffering the effects of was the lack of Virgil Van Dijk:
“Every club has injuries now and again. Liverpool has a big injury, which is Van Dijk.
Van Dijk is injured, and Van Dijk is a very good player of course. But give me Liverpool’s list of injuries and compare that list with what is the best Liverpool team.”
With that, the game was on even before the whistle had been blown.
José may have been unaware of the fact that Joël Matip had been ruled out for the game with back spasms, Joe Gomez is due to be injured for at least the next 3-4 months and that Fabinho was acting as a centre-half due to these injuries.
Not only this but Thiago Alcantara being on the treatment table for the best part of his Liverpool career after winning the Champions League last season is also a miss for the Reds. However, there is a potential that Mourinho is right because the team that defeated his almost injury-free squad outplayed and dominated his defensive dynamos for the majority of the ninety minutes.
Early on it was clear chances were falling to Liverpool with Robertson whipping a wicked ball into the box from a free-kick which Roberto Firmino connected with his head, but he never quite got enough power or direction to trouble Lloris.
Robertson once again acted as the provider as eight minutes later, in the 20th minute, as Aurier misjudges the flight of the ball and the Scot charges into the box from the left-wing before fizzing a ball into Mohamed Salah’s feet – his snapshot was directed straight at the goalkeeper.
Then in the 26th minute, the sheer amount of chances Liverpool had was rewarded with a generous slice of luck. Curtis Jones and Firmino with a quick one-two outside the box, Jones charged forward into the box but was surrounded by Spurs defenders who attempted to clear but only as far as Salah whose shot was deflected off of Eric Dier’s right boot over the helpless Lloris.
Dominating the possession stats but not carving out many clear-cut chances with Sadio Mané attempting a rather audacious bicycle kick two yards inside the Spurs penalty area, things all seemed to be going the way Liverpool wanted it to. That was until Lloris’ quick thinking set off Giovanni Lo Celso who was not closed down on the halfway line fast enough – his ball to Heung-Min Son was inch-perfect and with only thirty yards to run on goal one-on-one against Alisson, there aren’t many players in the league who could catch the South Korean let alone stop the shot.
Indeed, Son scored, his shot into the goalkeeper’s bottom right corner was executed perfectly. VAR showed that Son was level with Liverpool centre-half Rhys Williams, stepping into the side replacing Matip, so the score was now level with around ten minutes left until half time.
The game restarted and Trent Alexander-Arnold wished to get his team back ahead with him being closed down by Bergwijn the right-back picked out Firmino in the box, his shot parried by Lloris. Salah also tested the French captain as well as Mané with some slaloming runs into the box – all attempts on target but all straight at the goalkeeper.
Half time loomed and though Liverpool were having much better chances, Tottenham’s resilience was prevailing.
Half time: Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
With words being said from the managers to their players in the dressing rooms it was Spurs who had the first chance of the half, and it came only twenty-seven seconds after the restart. Alderweireld poked a hopeful ball upfield and reached Bergwijn after Williams failed to reach the ball in the air.
Alexander-Arnold attempted to recover but it was too late, the Dutchman had Alisson and the goal at his mercy. Instead of finding the back of the net, the ball was shanked out for a goal-kick, a huge let-off for the young centre-half making his Premier League debut.
Liverpool was slow to start and was looking sloppy – the purest example from Alisson who wished to pick out Alexander-Arnold after coming out of his box to meet a pass but Harry Kane intercepted the flat ball to his England compatriot and attempted to score whilst the goalkeeper was helpless off his line. Brazil’s no. 1 was just able to make up enough ground to put the ball out for a corner.
Kane has shown this season he is more than a goal scorer but also an incredible provider of goals and his header onto Son from a goal kick that was, in turn, knocked onto Bergwijn had him, once again, having only one more man to beat in the goalkeeper to take the lead. He opened up his body to curl the ball inside the post but only was able to strike the woodwork with Fabinho clearing the ricochet.
If that was one golden opportunity then Kane must have known that from the corner, being completely unmarked and having the ball put right on his head that all the supporters in the Kop end must have been expecting the net to bulge. However, it was not meant to be as the header put the ball into the ground and over the crossbar.
Mané attempted to reply ten minutes later with him finally getting the best of Serge Aurier, who man marked the Senegal striker for most of the first half, as Jones threaded the ball through the backline and Mané rolling the Ivorian struck the ball with his weaker left foot with a thunderclap that got a fingertip from Lloris before crashing against the bar.
Half-chances came and went, and it seemed as if the ‘Mourinho Masterclass’ was about to pay off.
With no Van Dijk, as José pointed out before the game, Liverpool’s ability to not only defend but attack from set-pieces has been limited this season. This may have been the reason why Dier elected to stand on the periphery of the Spurs 18-yard box.
Robertson whipped in the corner in the 89th minute, Dier falls to the floor apparently under the impression he was fouled by captain Jordan Henderson and with Kane doing a miserable job of keeping Liverpool’s number nine under pressure, ‘the man who the Kop want you to know is the best in the world’, Bobby Firmino rises highest and powers the ball into the top left corner of the Anfield Road end’s net.
Not wishing to celebrate in front of an empty stand, the Brazilian ran the length of the pitch to show how much that goal meant to him in front of the Kop.
A check took place as to whether an offence had taken place to impede Dier. Chris Kavanagh, the VAR official, said no such foul took place.
Therefore, did the goal stand? ‘Si señor.’
Acting as the pantomime villain of the game, Mourinho shook Klopp’s hand but left the German with the parting words: “The better team lost.”
Pep Lijnders, Liverpool’s assistant manager, looked bemused and almost humoured by the statement – his senior coach adopting the same emotion, all with a slight smirk.
Certainly, Spurs had the bigger chances in the second half and if they had put them away, they would have been halfway down the M1 by the 75th minute with the bus already starting its engine. The ‘back-six’ that stood for most of the game was trademark Mourinho but the fightback and drive from the opposing team’s players showed classic Klopp elements.
Now Liverpool sits atop of the Premier League, at least for the next few days. Football moves fast, especially at this time of year and with only two free days in between fixtures there is no let-up as Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park awaits on 19th December.
This may be a small indication of where the title will end up at the end of this very different Premier League season. Undoubtedly one of the most important factors to take from this game is what has been proven time and time again: Jürgen Klopp’s men never give up.
Full Time: Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool: Alisson (8), Alexander-Arnold (7), Fabinho (8), R Williams (7), Robertson (8), Henderson (8), Wijnaldum (8), Jones (8), Salah (7), Firmino (8), Mané (7).
Tottenham: Lloris (7), Aurier (7), Alderweireld (6), Dier (6), Davies (6), Sissoko (7), Hojbjerg (7), Lo Celso (7), Bergwijn (6), Kane (6), Son (8).
Subs: Lucas Moura (5), Reguilón (6), Alli (n/a).
Man of the Match: Roberto Firmino.