This was never going to be an easy game. Despite the fact we got back on track against Huddersfield on Tuesday night. Despite the fact our home record against Spurs is impeccable since 2011. Despite the fact we are two points clear and have been one of the sides of the season, containing one of the players of the season. Spurs demolished Manchester United at Wembley in midweek and came to Anfield with the wind in their sails, never mind the aim of overtaking us and propelling themselves into the top four. Yep, this was definitely not going to be an easy game.
Jurgen Klopp made just two changes to his side which defeated Huddersfield this week and both came in defence. Virgil van Dijk replaced Joel Matip in the centre, while an injured Joe Gomez was left out for Trent Alexander-Arnold. James Milner retained his place in midfield, as did Jordan Henderson and Emre Can. The usual front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah started up front. Mauricio Pochettino, contrary to his opponent in the home dugout, named an unchanged side from the one which beat United on Wednesday night.
The game started in frantic fashion and a goal looked likely even in the earliest stages in the game. In fact, it was so likely that it came within three minutes. A scramble for the ball on the edge of the Spurs box eventually saw Eric Dier lazily poked the ball back towards Hugo Lloris in the Kop end goal. However, his pass wasn’t strong enough and Mohamed Salah was on it like a flash. He ran onto the ball in front of Davinson Sanchez, took one touch across the Colombian centre half and fired across Lloris into the bottom corner. The roof came off Anfield. Salah jogged away and sprinted in front of a jubilant Kop with his team-mates. Liverpool had an early lead.
Spurs struggled to retain possession of the ball. Pochettino’s formation meant that Dele Alli and Christian Erisken were forced to play on the wings, but they weren’t offering any cover for their full backs. Salah and Sadio Mane were having a field day against Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier. While Roberto Firmino occupied the centre back partnership of Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, Salah and Mane were running riot. The energy of Jordan Henderson and James Milner in the centre of the park also saw Spurs rendered ineffective across the middle of the pitch.
This saw Liverpool create chances. First, James Milner got through down the Liverpool right and look to lift a cross towards the back post for the onrushing Mo Salah. But his cross took a nick off Sanchez and looked, for a second at least, like it was heading goalwards. Luckily for Lloris it landed just wide of his far stick. Not long later Alexander-Arnold picked out Firmino in the middle of the area with a fantastic cross from the right wing. Firmino lined his header up but could only find the advertising hoarding behind the goal.
Liverpool were clearly in the ascendency, but Spurs were showing they were still in the game. Their main aim seemed to be to find Harry Kane at any opportunity. But Virgil van Dijk, back in the side after being dropped for the Huddersfield game and not putting on his best display in the cup defeat against West Brom last Saturday, had Kane’s number for the first half. Van Dijk was everywhere and made sure the England striker wasn’t getting a sniff, as well as superbly blocking an attempt from Son Heung Min from a lovely reverse pass from Eriksen.
Liverpool went in ahead at half time and deservedly so. We had forced Spurs into mistake after mistake in the first period and the goal was deserved. The energy in midfield had completely neutered Tottenham and they were struggling to see any of the ball. Plus, Pochettino’s insistence of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen providing the width had played right into our hands. Spurs needed to change if they were going to get anything out of this game. They couldn’t have foreseen what was about to happen though.
The Liverpool side that came out after the break looked like they had been doing laps of Stanley Park during the interval. Gone was the energy and work rate of the first half. Liverpool, bizarrely given they had just come back out after half time, looked leggy and tired. Spurs began to overrun us in midfield and Pochettino’s tactics were beginning to pay off. Son Heung Min had a guild edged chance when he was put clean through on Karius. However, the German’s reactions were excellent. He spread himself brilliantly, closed the angles and smothered the shot as Son hit it.
Spurs were getting in behind Liverpool, though Harry Kane was still being nullified by Virgil van Dijk while Dejan Lovren kept guard of any runners into the area. We still struggling to control the midfield however – a glaring contrast from the first half – and Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson. Fresh legs were needed and these looked like wise choices on the face of things. But the problem continued and Spurs were now in full flow. It looked a matter of time until the equaliser came – and come it did.
Christian Eriksen put a teasing ball across the box from the Spurs left. Loris Karius could have caught it but elected to punch it away instead. His punch was nowhere near powerful enough though and bounced into the middle of the pitch. Nobody in red reacted quick enough and Victor Wanyama, on as a sub not two minutes prior, jogged in front of Oxlade-Chamberlain to hit it first time from twenty-five yards. The shot was a rocket and nearly took the net off the Kop end goal. Spurs were deservedly level and were now looking to win it. On eighty-four minutes they were given the opportunity to.
Christian Eriksen tried to play a ball through to Kane in the Liverpool area which Dejan Lovren looked to have covered. In another one of his now notorious costly mistake, Lovren completely miscued his clearance and the rolled over his foot. Kane sprinted onto it and rounded Karius, but the ‘keeper brought him down and the referee blew for a penalty. There was a delay in taking the spot kick as neither referee or his assistant were sure there was a touch as the ball rolled through to Kane, who had been in an offside position before Eriksen even played the pass. The decision stood though and the talismanic striker was given the responsibility of giving Spurs the lead. He stepped up and hit his pen straight down the middle, but Karius stood his ground and palmed it away to the delight of three quarters of the stadium.
A nervy Anfield was now rejuvenated and both sides started to push for a winner. Spurs probably deserved it most on the balance of play. However, on ninety-one minutes, it looked as if Liverpool had snatched it.
Mo Salah had the ball on the right of the Spurs box with three players around. At first it looked as if he had lost it, but he scrapped and held onto possession before leaving Eric Dier for dead. He then turned Vertonghen and was now through on Lloris’ goal. The French stopper came out to meet him, but Salah lifted the ball over him and into the roof of the Anfield Road End goal. The stadium erupted again and it looked as if Liverpool had won it to go five points clear of our opponents. The obvious Tottenham onslaught came. Could Liverpool hang on.
With two minutes of the four left to play in stoppage time Spurs were in the Liverpool box and the ball spun into the air. As it came down, Erik Lamela looked to control with the close attentions of Virgil van Dijk. Van Dijk attempted to clear but Lamela got his leg in the way first. Foot met leg and Lamela went down. The referee waved play on but his linesman waved his flag and assumed his position on line with the post. The man in charge heeded his assistant’s advice and reversed his decision, giving the pen much to the derision of most of the ground. Kane stepped up again and, this time, made no mistake. Spurs were now level. With barely any time left in the game, the referee called time on an enthralling game as soon as Liverpool kicked off.
This really was a game of two halves. Liverpool dominated the opening forty-five minutes. We forced Spurs into key mistakes and maybe should have had more than one goal at half time. Our final ball consistently let us down though and it meant that Spurs were always in it. The change in Liverpool after the break was inexplicable. We had gone from this all-action team of pressing superheroes, to a team that looked like they had swapped their modern, light boots for lead ones. Spurs deserved something out of the game but, having come so close to snatching victory, a draw was hard to take.
Liverpool go to St. Marys’ next week looking to put the space between ourselves and todays fifth placed opponents that we should have done in this game. Hopefully there will not be another peculiar change in events as there was here.