Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool – The Final Written Word
By: Collin Hockenbury.
I think you call it squeaky bum time in England. I don’t know if we have a name for that feeling here in America. I know that after those last 20 minutes at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, I thought I’d need a new pair of pants.
Here are the five big takeaways from the Reds’ battle in London on Sunday.
After more than five seasons at Liverpool, Mo Salah is still the main man.
When Mo Salah touches the ball, good things happen. When Mo Salah touches the ball in the box, very good things happen. He hasn’t benefitted from the loss of Sadio Mane, the changes in the system, the loss of two attacking partners in Jota and Diaz or the stop-start introduction of Darwin, his new best friend up front. Like so many of our players, Mo has had to turn the page this season and find a way to adapt to a new-look Liverpool.
But guess what isn’t new: Mo Salah is our leading scorer in all comps again. He’s up to 14 goals this campaign if you include the Community Shield (which we won, so let’s). Both goals at Spurs were vintage Mo: an accurate snapshot, then a cheeky chip over Lloris from a one-on-one break. Thank you, Eric Dier! Here’s to many more mistakes for Mo to pounce on in the 25 Premier League games that remain.
Spurs couldn’t cope with Darwin down the left.
With Darwin tearing down the sideline from the first whistle, there was no chance we were having another slow start this weekend. Tottenham afforded him acres of space in the first 45 and he took full advantage, forcing an athletic to save from a strong volley and then dragging a shot just wide in the opening minutes. His assist came shortly after, the byproduct of another burst into the box, then some great composure and awareness to find Salah’s feet.
His second half was much more understated, as was pretty much everyone’s—we’ll get to that. He could have put the game to bed, darting across the 18 to create room for a right-footed shot, which he mishit straight to Lloris. But when we didn’t get the third and began to drop deep, succumbing to Tottenham’s pressure, he showed his usual willingness to sprint back and make a menace of himself in our defensive half. Even though his pressing and defensive positioning aren’t second nature—like those of his teammates who have a better understanding of Klopp’s approach without the ball—he looks capable of being a difference-maker in all stages of any game.
It was a tale of two halves.
This didn’t come as a huge surprise since Tottenham are well-known for going behind (Remind you of anyone?) and staging late comebacks. Plus, we had a two-goal lead to defend, and Jurgen hasn’t been able to organize many half-time team talks around that scenario this season. We were too passive and underequipped. During the last half hour, in particular, it looked like a complete role reversal, with Tottenham turning us over, sending in dangerous crosses and getting runners in a prime position along our backline.
Bobby struggled to keep the ball and Harvey seemed uncomfortable dealing with wave after wave of Spurs attackers. Thiago and Fabinho put in big shifts, but neither are mobile enough to stifle the kind of chaos Spurs created in the middle of the pitch. When it came time to turn to the bench, it’s fair to say Jurgen made the right subs, replacing Firmino and Elliott with Jones and Henderson, respectively. But both players were given the tall order of establishing more control in a game where we no longer had any. Carvalho was another option, but his lack of experience and physicality mirrors Harvey’s. He would have been better suited coming on if we were down a goal, not up one.
All of it further highlighted our need for at least one more midfielder—a strong, athletic one at that. We aren’t lacking quality and innovation on the ball—we have that in our youngsters. We need someone who can allow Thiago and Fabinho a little respite in front of our back four. Someone who can win a tackle, hold the ball, carry it forward or chase it back effectively.
A scrappy three points, but a deserved three points.
As much as the Spurs fans—and in my experience, the commentators—wanted us to crack and concede the equalizer, it never came. Was it down to poor finishing, good luck or quality defending? I’d say all of the above. On another day, Lenglet’s header from the corner finds the roof of the net or Bentancur gets on the end of that late cross. But it didn’t all come down to what Tottenham did wrong. We made them come out of the shape that Conte prides himself on by taking the game to them and building a deserved lead. And considering the slick Kulusevski-Kane move was the only time we came out second best, we defended pretty admirably. Ibou Konate was the monster we needed him to be for the second straight game, but he’s just one example. To a man, the “fight” that pundits, journalists and even our own fans sometimes claim we lack was on display. Spurs away is one of the toughest fixtures of the season—one of the only blights on our record last season. Opposing players are never going to leave that field with a win and a clean kit. And opposing fans are never going to celebrate a win there without worrying if they need new pants at one point.
Top four is well within reach.
If we were to win our game in hand (whenever we can actually play it) we’d be four points off of fourth place. Newcastle host Chelsea next and United go away to Fulham. Points will be dropped. Remember, we’re not the only big club who have shown inconsistency this season. We need to handle our business in a game where we’re actually favoured for a change. Southampton at home is no different to Forest or Leeds in that respect, and if we can correct our record against bottom-half sides just before the World Cup, that timing is perfect.